Missouri Law Strips Schools of Right to Track Students

A new Missouri law makes it illegal for schools to electronically track students as part of a national push to increase privacy protections.

Schools in the state will no longer be allowed to require students to carry radio frequency identification technology (RFID) that tracks their location using radio waves and a small chip which is often embedded in a card or badge.

Governor Jay Nixon argued that a prohibition on RFID technology in schools “would eliminate an important option for school districts to consider when analyzing measures to protect the safety and security of their students” when he vetoed the bill in July.

However, Senator Ed Emery, the sponsor of the bill, disagrees.

“I see local control in the arena of the students as parents,” Emery said. “The parents are the ones that should ultimately decide how much of their student’s information should be broadcast.”

The bill received more than two-thirds majority in the Senate, but fell short of the 109 votes it needed in the House.

However, the bill did not distinguish between active and passive tracking, which would prevent the tracking of laptops and other electronic devices.  Active tracking signifies there is a power source, while passive tracking requires the information stored on the device to be read.

“Depending on how this technology is used, it could have potential of broadcasting information about a child,” Bahr said. There is no way to assume any database that stores information connected to a passive RFID couldn’t be hacked, Bahr said.

Also in question is how far away the signals could be detected.  Some of them can be read up to 2-3 miles away.

“We ought to leave it to the local school districts on how they want to monitor their students,” Senator Joseph Keaveny said. “Anything that we can do to introduce technology into our school system to ensure that students are safe and that the schools are running efficiently, I think we ought to embrace and not prohibit.”

The initiative comes as part of a nationwide aim at protecting electronic privacy after reports of government surveillance surfaced through the National Security Agency.  Since then, states have been taking action to protect citizens from spying by police and the government.

A similar policy in a San Antonio school was brought to court by a student who claimed the tracking device violated her religious beliefs.  The school had been using the technology to keep track of attendance.

“We’re seeing this in many states,” said Marc Rotenberg, president of the Washington-based Electronic Privacy Information Center. “Part of it is that lawmakers understand that people care about privacy and are prepared to take steps to protect privacy.”

The bill will take effect this October, right as Chris Nicastro, Missouri’s fifth education commissioner, is set to retire.