For Immediate Release
Privacy and Safety Questions Loom Over Federal Program to Track Preschoolers
Open Letter from ACLU-NC and EFF Calls for Answers About Controversial RFID Program
SAN FRANCISCO - The ACLU of Northern California (ACLU-NC) and the Electronic Frontier
Foundation (EFF) are calling for answers to critical privacy and safety
questions that loom over a controversial federal program to track
preschoolers with radio frequency identification (RFID) chips at George
Miller III Head Start program in Richmond, California.
In an open letter to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
and the Contra Costa County Employment and Human Services Department,
ACLU-NC and EFF are asking officials to disclose what technical and
security measures are used by the system to safeguard the privacy and
safety of preschoolers, as well as what data is collected, how long it
is retained, and who has access to the information. The letter also
calls on officials to publicly address why and how the government
decided to track Head Start students, and if the government plans to
expand such tracking.
"This program allows for far more invasive surveillance than is
required for attendance and other record-keeping for a Head Start
program," said EFF Senior Staff Attorney Lee Tien. "We want to know how
and when privacy and security issues were considered in the development
of this program, and how many other schools will be pressured to
implement this system."
ACLU-NC and EFF are calling on officials to ensure that there is a
process in place to protect the privacy and safety of schoolchildren, to
make sure parents are fully informed about the privacy and safety risks
of RFID technology, and to provide for an opt-out program for concerned
Concerns about RFID privacy and safety in California schools came up
just five years ago, when an elementary school in Sutter, California
attempted a similar program. The plans were scuttled when parents
realized the risk to their children. In response, California lawmakers
in 2007 overwhelmingly passed a bill requiring that any RFID program in
schools include education campaigns for parents and be completely
voluntary. While Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger did not sign the bill
into law, it's clear that there is widespread concern about this
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"Public schools should not be chipping students now and asking
questions about privacy and safety later," said Nicole Ozer, Technology
and Civil Liberties Policy Director at the ACLU of Northern California.
"Parents should not have to pay for Head Start with the privacy and
safety of their preschoolers. It's time for some answers about why
federal stimulus funds are paying for expensive, intrusive, and
potentially insecure school tracking programs."
The RFID program was launched this school year at the school with
funds from the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA).
For the full open letter:
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