In another ill-conceived government effort, no doubt designed “for the children,” the Middletown, R.I., school district plans to place RFID chips in the backpacks of school kids to track when they get on and off the school bus. The idea has the American Civil Liberties Union, not to mention the usual anti-RFID crazies, riled up. I don’t like the idea either, but for different, and I hope simpler, reasons. Look no further to find that the company supplying the technology to the trial is run by the brother of the Middletown school district’s facilities director. That alone is reason to spike the plan. Steven Brown, executive director of the ACLU Rhode Island chapter, is right when he calls the plan “a solution in search of a problem.” Even if you think RFID tracking is a good idea, the Middletown approach is hardly efficient Ã¢â?¬â?? all the chip will record is when a child got on and off the school bus. (What about kids who walk or carpool to schools?) And even then, what’s really being tracked is the backpack, not the kid. Given the upper-middle class paranoia that fuels such government-sponsored “let’s-track-our-children” ideas (Middletown neighbors tony Newport), it’s easy to imagine the cross-departmental chaos a group of mischievous 10-year-olds could create simply by exchanging their backpacks. Above all, this plan should be opposed simply because it is poor use of taxpayer money. It won’t make children any safer. It’s a matter of local government officials letting themselves be seduced by tech sizzle. What’s regrettable is that ideas like this bring the tinfoil helmet crowd out of the woodwork declaring that RFID is an automatic identity theft and privacy threat. While we should be careful about proposals to use impose RFID for personal tracking (even for our own “safety and security”), it has many beneficial applications. Yet hysteria over the technology has already seen efforts such as California’s ill-conceived proposal (vetoed by Gov. Schwartzenegger), to ban all commercial investment or development of the technology within the state. Much of this legislative action is based on misperceptions over what RFID can and cannot do. For more clarity, see my post from about a year ago.
Steven Titch served as a policy analyst at Reason Foundation from 2004 to 2013.