Without much of a mentionable public debate about the implementation of police state surveillance and tracking technologies in our society, we are quickly moving into an era where personal liberty and privacy do not exist.
For those of us who grew up without being monitored and tracked everywhere we went, watching the high-tech infrastructure of a super-funded police state emerge is both alarming and intolerable. For today’s children, however, ubiquitous surveillance and zero-expectation of privacy is the standard in a culture dependent on smartphones, Wi-Fi, constant connectivity and intrusive government.
Ostensibly for safety purposes, we are seeing a host of child tracking and monitoring devices being rolled out for use by parents, schools and other public institutions. Here are some of the main technologies that are available and in use today to track, monitor, surveil, watch, record, listen, protect and spy on children.
RFID technology transmits radio frequency signals from a chip embedded in something the child wears or carries with them, perhaps an ID badge worn on a lanyard, or a bracelet that fits on the wrist like a watch. The radio signal is received by an installed system that plots and records the location of the chip/student at any moment.
At present, this technology is being used in many school districts in the US and worldwide to track student movements on campus and on school buses. The Disney corporation recently invested billions in bringing this technology into their theme parks.
In 2012, high school Andrea Hernandez from Texas made national headlines for being the only student at her school to publicly refuse to wear an RFID badge when the school unveiled a pilot program requiring all students to be tagged at all times while at school. Her case went to court where she lost; however, the pilot program was eventually abandoned because it proved to be ineffective and costly.
2. Global Positioning System (GPS), Wi-Fi and Cell Tower Tracking Wristbands and Software Apps for Parents
To track and communicate with their children, parents can purchase colorful, fun-looking wristbands that can use GPS, cell phone, and Wi-Fi networks to send data to software applications on the parents’ handheld devices and smartphones. The parents can watch on screen in real time the relative location of their child, sending audible warning tones or messages to the child’s wristband if they stray too far.
Some, like the visionaries at Cisco Systems, are working toward a future where the tracking signal from a child’s wristband can alert parents, schools and even police if the child strays off course on his way home, perhaps making an unauthorized stop at a candy store. The wristband would also be able to turn on the television when the child is sensed approaching, or even emit a loud beeping alarm if the child is sensed putting a hand into an unauthorized cookie jar.
3. Software and Handheld Apps to Monitor and Record Online Activity and Phone Conversations
Today’s increasing connectivity is giving children greater access to the World Wide Web, where mature and adult content is easily found. As a means of monitoring a child’s online activity to ensure that they are not over-exposing themselves or growing up too fast on the Internet, many tracking and monitoring software and apps are available to parents and institutions. Parents can monitor any websites visited, who they talk to, and even their activity on social media sites like Facebook.
4. Biometrics – Fingerprint and Iris Scans
Biometrics uses scanned high-resolution images of distinct, measurable features of a person to use as an identity or method of access. In some cases schools are using digital fingerprinting and iris scans to provide security and convenience for students.
In the United Kingdom, other European nations and some areas in Asia, it is becoming commonplace for to fingerprint for admission into school. Some schools in the US use a fingerprint scanning system for payment in the school cafeteria, requiring kids to be finger-printed to buy lunch.
In 2013, a Florida public school came under fire for implementing a pilot program that scanned the irises of some school children before notifying their parents, causing a small outrage. School administrators said that the program was being tested to help track students to and from school so that school officials could tell worried parents why their kids were late getting home.
5. Visually Monitoring Children Through Surveillance Cameras and Webcams
Surveillance cameras are already a normal feature in many schools, and are seen as a requirement as protection from liability. Most laptop computers have a built-in video camera, and there are a number of available consumer grade baby monitoring cameras available. In some cases webcams are accessed by schools as a means to locate missing or stolen computers.
In 2010, a Philadelphia area public system was forced to settle 2 lawsuits for $610,000 after student Blake Robbins claimed the district used a school-issued laptop computer to spy on him in his home, taking intimate photos of him in his bedroom.
… evidence unearthed in the case showed that he was photographed 400 times in a two-week period, sometimes as he slept in his bedroom, according to his lawyer, Mark Haltzman. [Huffington Post]
The case was settled, and the FBI investigated the district to determine whether charges should be brought against the district, but they declined to prosecute anyone, stating that they had not found evidence that a crime was committed. Nevertheless, the technology is already deployed in some public schools with questionable oversight.
Is it healthy for children to be treated in this way? Should they be given the opportunity to consent to surveillance before being subjected to it? Is this truly necessary for safety, or this is just a manifestation of growing societal fear and paranoia?
Depending on your perspective, surveilling kids may or may not be a good thing, but no one yet knows what the long-term effects will be of acclimating a generation of children to the idea of being constantly tracked and monitored in school, at play, at home and online. Furthermore, no one knows how these technologies will be abused by predators.
But perhaps most importantly, why have we not created a society that is safe for children?