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    Op-Ed at San Francisco Chronicle: Misguided use of microchip technology

    The San Francisco Chronicle has an editorial about the use of radio frequency identification (RFID) technology to track children’s attendance in a head start program. (RFID systems transmit data wirelessly from a chip or tag to a reader.)

    Officials with Contra Costa County’s Head Start program were frustrated. In order to meet federal requirements, they had to take attendance every hour. These and other administrative tasks were taking up a lot of teachers’ time – between one and three hours a day per teacher – and using up a lot of the program’s limited funds. […]

    But we can’t support what those officials did next, which was to implement a microchip tracking program for those very young children.

    The child-tracking initiative is called Child Location, Observation and Utilization Data System (CLOUDS). This summer, the first part of the system was installed at the George Miller III Center in Richmond, which provides free or reduced-cost child care under the federal Head Start program. About 200 students between the ages of 3 and 5 were assigned basketball jerseys that were embedded with the electronic locator chips. The idea is that the tracking devices are a quick way to take attendance. They also send signals to administrators whenever a child strays out of his or her assigned area. […]

    But Contra Costa officials also should have done their homework on the history of these devices in California – and about the very real privacy and safety concerns that they’ve created.

    In late 2004, there was a national uproar when a middle school in Sutter County required students to wear microchipped badges that allowed administrators to track them around campus. One of the many problems, as further research has shown, is that informed criminals can pick up on the information on those badges, too. That problem hasn’t gone away. […]

    The Sutter County disaster was one of the main reasons the state passed a 2007 law that banned forced implantation of microchips under a person’s skin. But Contra Costa County officials didn’t do their homework on these issues.

    “We didn’t know about the Sutter case until this came up,” said Karen Mitchoff, a spokeswoman for the Contra Costa County Employment and Human Services Department. […]

    If the county didn’t do its homework on these devices before it assigned them to students, we find it difficult to believe that they’ll be able to ensure the security of these devices now that the students are wearing them.

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