Thursday, January 10, 2013

School can force student to wear RIFD locator chip - in Texas

It is a particular school in Texas whose school funding requires, so the Christian Science Monitor story goes, tracking students everywhere within school premises. The father of one student refused to permit his child to be tracked. And the ACLU, a participant in the suit, rightly notes that such a program promotes acceptance of intrusive surveillance. But a federal judge rules that the Texas school can force student to wear RIFD locator chip.

Hard (in the sense of bad) cases make bad law? Or does it merely make bad press coverage? The Monitor's coverage is a deficit view. A read of the Huffington Post's Texas School Tracking IDs Can Be Required Of Students, Judge Rules provides another view. The father had objected to the use of an ID badge that incidentally, as the facts seem to suggest, contains a locator chip because "the badge is a "mark of the beast" that goes against their religion." Intrusive surveillance was not their first choice of grounds for the suit.

But for several years his child had worn an ID badge without objection, although without the chip. The judge noted "her refusal to wear the new badge 'is clearly a secular choice, rather than a religious concern.'" And the surveillance issues is blunted because the school had agreed that she could wear an ID badge without the chip.

It is a difficult argument that a school's requirement of wearing an ID badge on school grounds is somehow unconstitutional. Surely there is no religious grounds. But tracking children, even on school grounds. probably crosses into consideration of constitutional violation.

Since the school has in a sense, at least for this student, eliminated the chip, it might make it difficult to appeal. It seems that the privacy argument is a better constitutional challenge. Even in its best light, the religious argument was weak. The family's (or father's) motivation seems suspect despite their attorney's representation: "To them this is a very strong religious moral issue. ... I believe their religious beliefs are protected because they are sincere."

For the facts of this case intrusive surveillance would have been the better challenge. Tracking of anyone, especially technology enabled, ought to raise the eyebrows on every citizen in a democracy. And, while it may have not been the basis for the initial suit, once the issue has been presented, it might be worth while for the case to be appealed on the privacy argument. Federal courts are not too concerned with the underlying factors like motivation, but are concerned with legitimate constitutional issues that might apply to others.

If the state can require wearing of locator chips within school grounds, is it a stretch to foresee the same requirements extended to outside the school grounds? And if school funding needs can dictate the wearing of the locator ID, doesn't that set a low bar for justifying tracking in other environments?

In the end, this might be more of a 'hard case makes bad press' coverage than anything to do with case law. The Christian Science Monitor excluded many of the truly salient points in this matter. The Huffington Post filled in the void. The Monitor failed its readers.

Much ado about nothing?

No comments:

Post a Comment