Northern Arizona State will soon track class attendance via an RFID (radio frequency identification) chip in student ID cards. The system, which is similar to one used at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, will use sensors to detect students as they enter classrooms. The data collected will be recorded and shared with professors.
Predictably, students are unhappy and, with equal predictability, have taken their discontent to Facebook via the protest group although some of the more energetic have started petitions against the proposed practice.
University officials say their aim is only to increase student attendance and improve performance though, with enough sensors, they could easily track students’ whereabouts on campus at all times. Students counter, correctly, that they are adults and whether they attend class regularly, on time or pass at all is not the university’s business.
The larger issue being overlooked is the growing use of tracking devices in the U.S., and how willing most people are to be tagged and set loose in the “wild” where their movements and spending habits are monitored, recorded and filed away for someone’s future use.
Since 2006 U.S. passports have been issued with 64-kilobyte RFID chips that carry the name, date and place of birth, nationality, and gender as well as a digitized photo of the person.
Credit card companies are slowly replacing existing cards with RFID chipped cards that also contain confidential information about the customer, and the states have been under intense pressure from the Federal government to comply with the REAL ID act, which make national ID cards out of drivers’ licenses.
Privacy advocates point out that RFID technology, despite encryption, still leaves people’s information vulnerable to anyone with a bit of technical know-how and a scanner, and chipping is fast becoming a go-to “safety” method of choice that has left the general population grumbling.
What’s contradictory about this is that people willingly tag themselves by driving vehicles and carrying cell phones that are GPS enabled. I’ve lost track of the number of people whose GPS enabled phones announce their whereabouts continuously on Facebook and Twitter for nearly anyone to see. How many of the indignant Arizona students are just as easy to track?
It leads one to wonder what they are fussing about because between Facebook, with its sketchy record on privacy, and the legion of social media apps whose creators demand the right to scan accounts before allowing installation of their programs, gleaning all manner of private data and then indefinitely storing it on sites unknown, students have more to worry about than their professors keeping track of their attendance.
Is it really all that different to consent to monitoring via one’s iPhone than to simply be counted absent or tardy at school via a school ID card?
Regardless, it’s a troubling new development in the current American trend towards a Big Brother state. Arizona already has the dubious honor of being the birthplace of the idea that asking people to prove their legal residency is an okay thing to do, rendering the chipping of college student’s ID’s inconsequential by comparison, but they are both a part of a pattern of erosion of civil liberties that extends back to the wake of 9/11 and the passing of The Patriot Act.
At what point is it overkill? When does it become government overreaching because they can and just plain creepy and wrong in a sci-fi movie kind of way?