US school tag tracker project prompts court row
- 23 November 2012
- From the section Technology
A court challenge has delayed plans to expel a Texan student for refusing to wear a radio tag that tracked her movements.
Religious reasons led Andrea Hernandez to stop wearing the tag that revealed where she was on her school campus.
The tags were introduced to track students and help tighten control of school funding.
A Texan court has granted a restraining order filed by a civil rights group pending a hearing on use of the tags.
ID badges containing radio tags started to be introduced at the start of the 2012 school year to schools run by San Antonio's Northside Independent School District (NISD). The tracking tags gave NISD a better idea of the numbers of students attending classes each day - the daily average of which dictates how much cash it gets from state coffers.
'Mark of the beast'
Introducing the tags led to protests by some school students at John Jay High School - one of two schools out of 112 in the NISD catchment area piloting the tags.
Ms Hernandez refused to wear the tag because it conflicted with her religious beliefs, according to court papers. Wearing such a barcoded tag can be seen as a mark of the beast as described in Revelation 13 in the Bible, Ms Hernandez's father told Wired magazine in an interview.
NISD suspended Ms Hernandez and said she would no longer be able to attend the John Jay High School unless she wore the ID badge bearing the radio tag. Alternatively it said Ms Hernandez could attend other schools in the district that had not yet joined the radio tagging project.
The Rutherford Institute, a liberties campaign group, joined the protests and went to court to get a restraining order to stop NISD suspending Ms Hernandez.
A district court judge has granted the restraining order so Ms Hernandez can go back to school and ordered a hearing next week on the NISD radio tag project.
The Rutherford Institute said the NISD's suspension violated Texan laws on religious freedom as well as free speech amendments to the US constitution.
"The court's willingness to grant a temporary restraining order is a good first step, but there is still a long way to go - not just in this case, but dealing with the mindset, in general, that everyone needs to be monitored and controlled," said John Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute in a statement.
Mr Whitehead said student tagging and locating projects were the first step in producing a "compliant citizenry".
"These 'student locator' programmes are ultimately aimed at getting students used to living in a total surveillance state where there will be no privacy, and wherever you go and whatever you text or email will be watched by the government," he said.