Essay Writing Samples

Critical Analysis of Tracking Devices in Student ID Cards

There is an inherent conflict between the value of safety on the one hand and the value of liberty on the other, as can be seen across a wide range of issues on the contemporary American cultural scene. One such issue consists of whether schools should be allowed to put geographical tracking devices in student IDs. This is the issue that will be addressed by the present sample essay provided by Ultius.

The essay will begin with a general overview of the issue. Then, it will proceed to a case study of what has occurred thus far when tracking devices have been put into student ID cards. The essay will then turn to a moral analysis of the conflict between safety and liberty that is at the heart of the issue under consideration. Finally, the essay will engage in a critical reflection that will produce the conclusion that schools should not in fact be allowed to put tracking devices in student IDs.

Tracking Devices in Student ID Cards

In its essence, the issue at hand here consists of the simple question of whether schools should have the prerogative of knowing where their students are at all times, with the assistance of tracking technology. Certainly we expect privacy at home, and a reasonable amount of privacy in the work place. Should the same amount of privacy be expected from students in school? At the technological level,

“one of the easiest ways to implement a student tracking system is by using student ID cards with Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) chips. Tiny radio transceivers which are only about the size of a grain of rice can be recognized by any RFID reader for several feet” (Mastros).

In principle, the movements of students would then be tracked in much the say way that mailed parcels and packages are tracked: for instance, student tracking would help let relevant stakeholders know if a student fails to get on a bus, or gets off a bus at the wrong stop.

It would seem that the tracking of students through the use of their IDs, even when it is implemented, would only apply to school-related facilities. The simple reason being that in order for the tracking devices to work, they would need to be read by relevant corresponding devices, and such devices would only exist in particular locations within schools or buses. However, the precedent set by this kind of RIFD student tracking technology could clearly have far broader implications over coming times.

For instance, if the RIFD chips were to be replaced by the kind of global positioning technology that is found in today’s smartphones, then it would in principle, be possible for student IDs to be used to track students anywhere at all, and not just in specific school-related locations. Given this era of increased government surveillance, it is also still a question whether schools should be granted to track the locations of students at all, even within school-related settings themselves. Or, whether this in of itself is a gross violation of the privacy of the students.

If this kind of technology is implemented, then broad resistance against it can be expected. Students resent being tracked at all even within school-related settings, or because they sense that this relatively smaller concession could be the beginning of much more serious concessions that will be expected of them in the future. This is akin to why a student may, for example, refuse to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance every morning. Not because he is disloyal to America, but rather because he may feel that this ritual itself is an affront to the American notion of liberty upon which the nation as a whole was founded in the first place.

In this context, it will perhaps now be worthwhile to turn attention to a case in which tracking devices on student IDs actually has been implemented: this is the case of Texas. A discussion of the case may prove to be illuminating with respect to some of the main issues at hand here.

Texas: A Case Study

Schools in the state of Texas have already begun implementing tracking devices in student IDs. Maurice Chammah and Nick Swartsell wrote in the New York Times about such an instance.

“For Tira Starr, an eighth grader at Anson Jones Middle School, the plastic nametag hanging around her neck . . . offers a way to reflect her personal flair. For administrators, it is something else entirely: a device that lets them use radio frequency technology—with scanners tucked behind walls and ceilings—to track her whereabouts” (Chammah and Swartsell).

The idea here would be that as Tira was within school property, her school would always be able to know exactly where she was, due to the simple fact that scanners installed around the school would be reading the barcode integrated into her student ID in real time. Some say this is a way of keeping students accountable; others say that it is a way of keeping them under control and grossly violating their privacy on the balance.

Naturally, some students in Texas have refused to wear these IDs with tracking devices; and the consequences have been somewhat predictable. Apropos of a school in Texas:

“Students picked up their badges at registration at the beginning of the year and were reportedly threatened with suspension or school transfer if they didn’t use the badge. One student refusing to use the RFID card said she was denied the ability to vote for Homecoming king and queen” (Kilmas).

In short, in schools that use student IDs with tracking devices, would there be consequences for students who refuse to wear those IDs? What is less clear, however, is whether those consequences are moral or even legal, as it is also unclear whether schools have an actual right to require students to wear these IDs. It will now be appropriate to turn to a critical consideration of the conflict between safety and liberty that is inherent to the issue of whether schools should be allowed to put tracking devices in the IDs of their students.

Safety versus Liberty

To start with, then, the obvious point could be made that the issue of tracking devices in student IDs raises constitutional concerns, as it would seem to be a gross violation of the students’ privacy. It’s very similar to the Patriot Act in the way of how much safety do we get for the cost of our liberty?

The basic purpose of tracking devices in student IDs, of course, is to enable stakeholders to monitor the geographical movements of students; it is thus inherently opposed to the liberty or privacy of those movements (Brown).

This is generally justified on the grounds that students will be safer as a result of such tracking. However, there exist constitutional protections of individual liberty that can be simply shoved aside on the grounds that they may make one safer; rather, the very structure of American government is premised on the notion that some risks to safety are worth taking, in order to protect fundamental liberties in the absence of which safety itself would be rendered meaningless.

Existing case law on this and related subjects stipulates that,

“school officials must ensure a student’s constitutional rights are not violated before restricting speech, invading privacy, or disciplining a student for actions that occur both on and off campus” (Redhage).

In other words, a student is also an American citizen, and he does not waive his rights as a citizen simply by virtue of being a student. This means that if tracking devices in student IDs would violate the constitutional rights of the student with respect to privacy, then the student would be well within his rights to refuse to wear such an ID. This would especially be the case if the ID in question would enable tracking not just within school-related settings but anywhere in the world, whether on or off campus. It would surely be a short move from the one kind of technology to the other.

A quite sophisticated position paper on this subject has been developed by the organization Chip Free Schools, which has been signed by numerous high-profile stakeholders, including the American Civil Liberties Union. The conclusion of this position paper reads in the following way:

“Because of the serious privacy, health, and logistical downsides of RFID in schools, we believe there should be a moratorium on its deployment unless there is sufficient evidence of its safety and effectiveness;” and if schools move forward all the same, “they should have provisions in place to adhere to the principles of fair information practices and respect for individuals’ right to opt out” (Chip Free Schools).

This is a clear defense of individual liberty and privacy in the face of infringements committed in the name of general safety. Chip Free Schools has suggested that tracking devices in student IDs is not only inappropriate but also not safe in light of current evidence (or lack of it) regarding the deployment of the technology. This is a serious recommendation that must be weighted with some seriousness when considering this issue in a thorough way.

Perhaps the conflict between liberty and safety in this instance, is that there has not been adequate analysis regarding what exactly the actual safety benefits would be. Would the benefits be substantial enough to justify the serious infringements against liberty and privacy that would be necessary in order to secure said benefits?

Indeed, it would seem that schools that have implemented tracking devices in student IDs thus far have done so surreptitiously. That is, they have used their natural authority over students to push this implementation through, without seriously considering the conflict of values implied by the issue at hand. This in and of itself would be enough to cast serious suspicion on the practice. If it were honest, then school officials should be more forthright about standing up to serious critical evaluation.

Critical Reflection

The main takeaway from this sample critical analysis from Ultius is that clearly that the implementation of tracking devices in student IDs would constitute a serious and possibly even unconstitutional violation of students’ privacy. The tracking is done in an involuntary way with no opt-out clause. The policy is a universal one, with the students in having done nothing to arouse the kind of suspicion that might even potentially justify this sort of policy. This is clearly unacceptable. And this becomes especially evident when one understands that the RFID technology that could be used within schools could potentially have far broader implications. For example, RFID readers could expand far beyond school-related settings into society as a whole; or, the RFID technology itself could be replaced with GPS technology over the coming times. This could make it very easy to track students—not to mention everyone else—anywhere at all on the planet. RFID tracking devices in student IDs could really be just the precursor to GPS tracking devices in driver’s licenses.

On the basis of these considerations, the strong conclusion can be reached that schools should surely not be allowed to put tracking devices in student IDs, especially when students are not allowed to opt out of this form of monitoring (and obviously, almost all students would likely choose to opt out, given the clear option to do so). Thus far, considerations regarding the balance between liberty and safety in this regard have been grossly inadequate, to the point that stakeholders would seem to be acting as if liberty—and its corollary, privacy—were not even values worthy of taking into account. In this context, the responsible and moral citizen can only side with the recommendation put forth by Chip Free Schools (and numerous other high-profile organizations) and affirm that tracking devices in student IDs should be banned unless and until the real benefits of such a move are confirmed by valid and reliable empirical evidence.

Works Cited

American Civil Liberties Union of Vermont. “Students Rights—Pledge of Allegiance.” Author, 2016. Web. 4 Sep. 2016.

Brown, Jessica. “Cards Let Schools, Parents Keep Eye on Students.” USA Today. 27 Nov. 2013. Web. 4 Sep. 2016.

Chammah, Maurice, and Nick Swartsell. “Student IDs that Track the Students.” New York Times. 6 Oct. 2012. Web. 4 Sep. 2016.

Chip Free Schools. “Position Paper on the Use of RFIDs in Schools.” Author, 21 Aug. 2012. Web. 4 Sep. 2016.

Kilmas, Liz. “Texas Students Rebelling against Electronic Tracking Cards Now Facing ‘Consequences.'” The Blaze. 8 Oct. 2012. Web. 4 Sep. 2016.

Mastros, Sonia. “Student Tracking Made Simpler with Student ID Badges.” BusBoss. 22 Dec. 2015. Web. 4 Sep. 2016.

Redhage, Eleanor. “Tracking Devices on Student ID Badges: An Unconstitutional Violation of Privacy or a Legitimate Safety Precaution?” Campbell Law Observer. 21 Mar. 2013. Web. 4 Sep. 2016.


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