No Kidnappings Lately? See How Great it Works!

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Interesting New York Times piece (reg. req.) about some of the early adopters in RFID tags to tracks kids in school, focusing on Texas' Spring Independent School District, north of Houston. It's kidnapping–which, the article points out, has never occurred in this district–that's being sold as the main benefit, as this article tells it.

The system is far from foolproof–it scans kids as they get on and off school buses, but one day the reporter observed, "When the bus arrived at school, the system had not worked. On the Web site that includes the log of student movements, there was no record that any of the students on the bus had arrived." The article also writes of a school in Buffalo that checks RFID-equipped badges as kids walk into the school.

As long as the chips are in badges, well, kids sure do lose things a lot, don't they–and are often mischievous scamps as well, who might decide to game the system by trading badges. How to handle this dilemma?

Advocates of the technology…do see broader possibilities, such as implanting RFID tags under the skin of children to avoid problems with lost or forgotten tags. More immediately, they said, they could see using the technology to track whether students attend individual classes.

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  1. Why don’t they implant things like this, or some kind of GPS transponder, in flak jackets, small arms caches, etc. in Iraq, wait for “insurgents” to pick them up, then follow them to their lairs and blast them to smithereens? Terrorist smithereens would be a great EBay item, it seems to me.

  2. And of course, any kidnappers would never ever think to simply make their victims throw their ID cards away.

  3. “Advocates of the technology…do see broader possibilities, such as implanting RFID tags under the skin of children”

    Why not have bar-code tattoos on their foreheads?

  4. Mr. Nice Guy-
    Putting it on their foreheads would make Christian fundamentalists worry about the “mark of the beast.” That’s why they’ll be implanted in their arms instead.

  5. I think tagging is a great idea whose time has come. We can even think fashion, no need for a demeaning ear tags like cows get, we can turn them into earrings…WoW, don’t I look great with my new government mandated tracking ring! We can have them out there in a variety of styles. TRACK EVERY MOVEMENT, just like at a large farm. WoW!

    Gosh, I am just so excited that the government and coporate world is banding together to keep track of us so well.

  6. I’m waiting for these RFID tags to be diverted from expected use, to unexpected but more pratical use. Seems ideal for smugglers, gun runners, drug supply, etc.

  7. I loved the photograph of the bus driver watching the child use the ID card as she got off the bus. The look in the driver’s eyes said, “You vill use identification or I vill jump down your throat!”

    Amazing what a few kidnappings can do to make us want to turn our children into sheep.

  8. Like I’ve said before: There isn’t another Western country that treats the rights of minors and teenagers with as much contempt as the USA.

  9. “Amazing what a few kidnappings can do to make us want to turn our children into sheep.”

    Like Mencken said, America is unique among Western nations in terms of the sheer cowardice of its populace. In its willingness to respond hysterically to any fear, whether real or imagined.

  10. Just a technological reminder: RFID is very short-range (at least so far), so you can’t use it to track people wherever they go unless you can make them prox their card everywhere. Hence, WASPB’s insurgent-tracking idea is not going to work. (Which is not to say that there aren’t other technologies that could work that way.)

    I do find the school thing pretty creepy, though, with its insistence that WE MUST KNOW WHERE YOU ARE AT ALL TIMES. I mean, kids were kids 50 years ago too, but nobody seemed to be demanding this. It’s this kind of thing that makes me a historical materialist – as soon as it becomes possible, people will start insisting on it even if they never showed any interest in it before. Although I’d have suggested just having the bus driver keep a record of who gets on and off the bus…

  11. Jennifer,

    I’ve already heard members of my Christian fundamentalist family talk about RFIDs as the “mark of the beast.” So it doesn’t matter.

  12. And I suppose advocates of the technology would make it a criminal offense akin to child abuse if parents objected to having their children implanted with tracking devices.

  13. Hooray! Another expensive idea so that schools can do INTERNAL control on the students placed in their care, with far more intrusive technology. Yeah, they can see if students go to each class, or they can see if they go hang out with that suspected drug dealer between classes, or if they’re seeing some girl/boy. Is there any benefit to the students from wearing a tracking tag? Are they going to get lost in the bus? Maybe walking between the bus and the school door? Are kidnappers really waiting in the bushes along the entrance walk waiting to grab kids? The stated reasons for this are crap. It’s just a show, like airport security or national ID cards. These schemes do little at best to enhance actual security, but are great at snooping on people.

  14. I wish Orwell had written a “prequel” to 1984, explaining just how post-war England and America turned into Oceania. I imagine the telescreens first appeared in people’s homes after some woman was murdered in her bed thousands of miles away, and after a bunch of sensationalized media stories succeeded in scaring the hell out of the populace, the government pointed out that if she’d had a telescreen in her home, the police would’ve known what was going on and been able to stop it.

    So of course, any liberal who opposed them was accused of being a hippie criminal-coddler, and any conservative who opposed them was accused of being a misogynistic gun nut who didn’t want his crimes caught on camera.

  15. Jennifer,
    You’re the English teacher/writer, maybe you should pen 1983. I’m sure us Reasonistas would be gald to give you ideas (for a small cut of the proceeds). Heck, these posts are a goldmine for government action leading to oppressiveness.

  16. Mo-
    Yes, but then Orwell’s estate would sue me for copyright violation, and we’d be having this same discussion in another thread, only about me.

  17. Mo, again-
    Whoops. We wouldn’t be having THIS discussion; we’d be having the discussion I just read about the ‘Hooters’ copyright-violation case.

    How embarrassing.

  18. THIS IS NOT A HUMAN CHILD!

  19. My post about this article suggested something similar: kids can trade badges, so what’s needed are implants.

    And, for the utmost in safety and security, there need to be several implants made in random parts of the body and the implants need to be undetectable.

    If you go to the link, you’ll see other links to the company that makes implantable RFID chips. And, if you click on the category link at the link, you’ll see that Indivos wants to create fingerprint scanners linked to credit cards. And, in their marketing materials they mentioned the Mark of the Beast paranoia.

  20. Yeah, but you know what? You can’t read the chips through water or metal (not sure how much and what type metal).

    So, who was commenting on my tinfoil hat long ago? You fool, you don’t even know what other tinfoil clothes I got on.

    It seems to me that maybe for the last 10-20 years not many people have read 1984 in school, as I did, and that’s too bad. All it takes is a decent imagination to see what kind of hell the is leading to …

    Do they still read George Orwell at your school, Jennifer? Can they read at all, I should ask first?

  21. Jennifer: Strictly speaking, the Mark of the Beast doesn’t have to be on the forehead. Revelation 13:16: “He also caused everyone (small and great, rich and poor, free and slave) to obtain a mark on their right hand or on their forehead.”

    The RFID implant companies could easily shut down this line of criticism by insisting on putting the tags only in the left arm or the legs. (If you’re a Biblical literalist, and the text says “right hand or forehead”, anything implanted elsewhere in the body is definitely not the Mark of the Beast. And if you’re not a Biblical literalist, the Mark of the Beast theory is probably not a compelling reason to object to RFID tags.)

    Lonewacko: You can’t make them “undetectable”. The tags are always going to be detectable with an RFID reader, because that’s how they work. They have metallic components, so they’ll show up on X-rays, and might even trigger a metal detector. And like all metallic implants, they’ll become very obvious if the subject ever has an MRI.

  22. Jimmy-
    I no longer teach, but when I did I taught “Animal Farm.” “1984” wasn’t on any of the curricula (too disturbing, don’cha know, especially with all that talk about sexual repression.)

    And ironically, in some ways the lessons of history and literature might make it EASIER fot things to get really bad, because a lot of people don’t say, “Wow, this is turning into 1984 or Nazi Germany,” they say instead, “C’mon, this is nowhere near as bad as 1984 or Nazi Germany! Take off your tinfoil hat and stop exaggerating!” Problem is, of course, by the times things actually DO get that bad, it’s too late to say or do anything about it.

    By the way, I’m really surprised by all the people who take comfort in “well, RFID technology can’t be read through metal or more than a hundred feet away and blah blah.” Surely people alive in our time, among all the other times in history, should know that new technologies have the tendency to get astonsihingly cheaper and more powerful in a very short time?

    RIAA, twenty years ago: “Oh, all you can do with a computer is store your recipes on it and play ‘Car Wars.’ No way do they have the capacity to threaten our monopoly on music distribution! Especially not when you consider how EXPENSIVE computers are!”

    AT&T: “No way will cell phones threaten the supremacy of land-based telephony. They’re too expensive! Why, cell phones charge five bucks a minute just for LOCAL calls! And they’re so heavy and so huge; women won’t ever like things too big to carry in their purses.”

  23. Mark-
    I made my post before yours came up. Yeah, I’m familiar with Revelation (as a teen I even had a Sunday-School teacher who told us not to worry about our SATs, because the Antichrist would most likely come to Earth before we finished high school), but I made that first comment during a lunch break at work, and my rules for at-work posting are: 1) don’t wrote anything too long, and 2) don’t say anything I wouldn’t want my boss to read. Kinda limiting, that.

    Well, if the fundies oppose RFID on religious grounds, this atheist will throw her weight, all 105 pounds of it, behind them in that one case. As a kid reading Revelation, I was horrified by the thought of a government being so intrusive.

  24. Jennifer, sorry about the late reply to your posts – high-tech high-speed internet was T.U.

    I agree with all you say about it. I am not particularly feeling any better about these privacy problems due just to “it can’t send through water, etc.” or especially that the range is small right now (that can change easily).

    It seems though, that the more we know about how things work, the easier it is for other engineering or technical types to find ways to spoof the signals or jam them, maybe even methods that are themselves pretty hard to detect.

    The good thing is that I observe that most computer types (ones that have a say in how databases and networks are set up) are somewhat liberarian-leaning. This is as opposed to the government types who want to use this information who usually have no technical background as they are lawyers and/or dumbshits (why else be in government? )

  25. Jimmy-
    I can’t even take comfort in the lovely irony that you couldn’t continue our discussion on the dangerous implications of modern technology because your Internet wasn’t working properly (which I assume is what ‘T.U.’ means).

    But I’ve been thinking about this all day (I had very little to do at work) and the more I think about it the more I’m disturbed by this modern trend, apparently, to view true or fictional cautionary tales ranging from the Nazis to Orwell to Huxley to Stalin, NOT as cautionary tales but as examples of the ONLY cases in which we should decide things are intolerable and need to be changed.

    Thus if you say, as I once did, “The way the FCC refuses to come right out and ban Private Ryan but instead reserves the right to punish the airing later reminds me of that scene in 1984 about how nothing was against the law since there were no laws, but he’d get twenty-five years in a labor camp if he were caught opening a diary,” people will not say, “Hmm, that sounds like the sort of thing Orwell was thinking about, as he took what he saw of post-war England and exaggerated it to show how horribly wrong it could end up going;” instead, they’ll point out, truthfully enough, that our situation is nowhere NEAR as bad as what Orwell complained about.

    Wouldn’t he just love the irony of learning that his bitter tirade against tyranny would later be used as a soothing assurance that petty tyranny doesn’t matter, since it’s really NOTHING like the world Orwell depicted in 1984?

    But even if it’s only 1957 in Orwell-years, shouldn’t we stop such cooing reassurances and try to fix things now?

    What really frightens me is the way some aspects of this situation remind me of something Hitler said in Mein Kampf–whoops, I dare not draw a single parallel to anything said or done by the Nazis of Adolf Hitler, not even if I make a point of mentioning that the Nazis took Situation X to much greater extremes than anyone here ever did, lest I Godwin the thread.

    And it’s almost six-thirty, so I have to go out.

    If anyone’s still reading this: don’t EVER let ANYONE put these damn RFID things into or onto your kids, no matter WHAT reason you’re given.

  26. Yeah, I never said that previous events and classic books give the only examples of what to worry about in this respect. However, for people who’s imaginations are not up to it, reading a classic like 1984 by Orwell or Farehneit by Bradbury will at least help you see the light.

    Let me tell you about a girl from Singapore, Jennifer, whom I met 8 months back. She is about 25 and has NO PROBLEM with the government of that State knowing the whereabouts and purchases of all citizens all the time, day and night. THIS IS NOW!, not sometime in the near future and hypothetical or open for discussion. She’s a very smart girl, Jennifer, but what the fuck?

    It’s just getting too close to the matrix, where I’m like the bald-headed black dude who can remember the past when people were free, and most everyone else can’t. Well shoot, I’m not a big fan so I could have that wrong. Plus, I’m not black or bald. Not much a fan of K. Reeves either, except for his part in “Point Break”! Man, that movie celebrated freedom. Bank robber, surfing, sky-diving, shooting, one hot babe – what else could you want in life …

  27. WAS: Farenheit

    S/B: Farenheit 451

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