Student Fights Schools RFID Tracking

The Northside Independent School District in San Antonio, Texas has gone live with their “Student Locator Project” that keeps track of all their students with ID cards embedded with radio frequency identification (RFID) chips. The school district’s stated goal is to encourage maximum attendance in order to increase their revenue from the state government. While the program cost over $500,000 to implement and will cost over $100,000 annually to maintain, the district hopes to bring in an additional $1.7 million in state revenue if the program is successful in increasing attendance.

As with any Big Brother program like this, there are plenty of opponents. One such person is high school sophomore Andrea Hernandez, who refuses to wear the new ID’s on religious grounds. She has been told that if she does not participate in the program that there will be consequences. She won’t have access to the library or the cafeteria, and she won’t be able to purchase tickets for extra-curricular events. In the past, students have also been threatened with expulsion, fines, or involuntary transfers for refusing to be tracked by the program.

Authorities have tried compromising with Hernandez, telling her that she can wear the new ID except without the chip, but she refuses to do that as well because it gives the impression that she supports such a program. The Rutherford Institute has come to her aid in representing her and challenging the school district to stop forcing such a program onto Ms. Hernandez. In his letter to the school superintendent, Rutherford Institute’s president John Whitehead wrote that her refusal is her First Amendment right:

“As you know, students do not shed their First Amendment rights at the schoolhouse gate. An integral component of the First Amendment’s protection of free speech is the freedom of citizens to refrain from expressing solidarity with ideas to which they, personally, object…Ms. Hernandez objects to wearing the SmartID badge because, as school officials have admitted, her wearing the badge on her person (with or without the imbedded chip) is an expression of support for the program. Indeed, it is precisely this expression of unity and support that administrators have stated to be the rationale behind the requirement that Ms. Hernandez don the badge like all other students and staff. By coercing Ms. Hernandez to express solidarity with other members of the school community in supporting the Student Locator Project, school officials are violating her First Amendment rights.”

While I admire the Hernandez’s steadfast approach on this issue, I don’t think I’d even bother fighting it if I were in their position. The “Student Locator Project” would have been my cue to get out of government education. This case does however offer a small taste of what it will be like when our government requires its citizens to carry around an RFID chip as a condition of citizenship. If we were to choose to “opt out” of such a program, we would be barred from society, and our citizenship rights would be stripped.