San Antonio Plan to Fit Student IDs with RFID Hits Snags

The hack of the San Antonio's school district website over the weekend is only the latest headache to hit the school system since it announced a plan last year to insert RFID tracking chips into identification cards carried by students in order to enable real-time tracking while on school grounds. An area teen took credit for the hack, which was allegedly accomplished with the help of the Anonymous hacker collective, and said that it was done to protest the erosion of the privacy rights of students enrolled in Northside district schools.

According to the perpetrator, who said he was 16 years old, the hack was accomplished on Saturday, and CBS Houston confirmed that the website was down on Sunday. There's no official determination of the cause of the outage from the district. Pascual Gonzalez, the district spokesman, said the investigation is ongoing.

Starting this fall, all students at John Jay High School and Anson Jones Middle School are required to carry identification cards embedded with a microchip. They are tracked by the dozens of electronic readers installed in the schools' ceiling panels. Northside has been testing a "radio frequency identification" tracking system for the two schools to increase attendance in order to secure more state funding, officials have said. The program, which kicked off at the beginning of this school year, eventually could be used at all of Northside's 112 campuses, officials have said. The district is the fourth largest in Texas with more than 97,000 students.

The RFID cards are also subject to a lawsuit from a student at John Jay who said that carrying a chipped ID interferes with her religious liberty. Andrea Hernandez said that her religion equates the ID with the Biblical "Mark of the Beast," a symbol supposedly used by the Antichrist during Armageddon to mark unbelievers. As a compromise, Principal Robert Harris offered to issue the student an ID without the chip, but the gesture was rejected by both the student and her family.

According to Andrea's father Steve said that he rejected the unchipped ID because the he couldn't abide by the conditions attached to it.

"He told me in a meeting that if my daughter would proudly wear her student ID card around her neck so everyone could see, he would be able to quietly remove her chip from her student ID card," Steve Hernandez explained to WND.

He added, "He went on to say as part of the accommodation my daughter and I would have to agree to stop criticizing the program and publicly support it. I told him that was unacceptable because it would imply an endorsement of the district's policy and my daughter and I should not have to give up our constitutional rights to speak out against a program that we feel is wrong."

Hernandez filed suit after Harris said that Andrew would have to be transferred out of John Jay if she refused to wear the ID badge. Last week, a judge sided with Andrea and her father and granted a restraining order preventing her from being transferred.

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