Ore. Senate passes bill to regulate tracking devices for kids

Ore. Senate passes bill to regulate tracking devices for kids
The Oregon State Capitol (Photo courtesy Flickr user cursedthing)

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — It hasn't happened yet in Oregon, but some lawmakers want to be prepared for the day schools replace roll call with tracking devices.

The Oregon Senate passed a bill Wednesday in a 28-2 vote that would require schools to notify students, parents and the state Board of Education before integrating radio-frequency technology that would track students' locations on campus.

Radio frequency identification devices are computer chips used to track cattle, consumer products and, in some U.S. schools, kids.

The devices can be implanted into student ID cards or attached to clothing for the purpose of monitoring students' location on campus, replacing the need to take attendance.

So far, only a few schools in Texas and California have integrated the technology.

Rep. Phil Barnhart, D-Eugene, the bill's sponsor, said the legislation was triggered by a story he read about a Texas high school student who was suspended for refusing to wear an identification card implanted with the tracking device.

"You can certainly imagine a whole lot of very beneficial and useful reasons for being able to know where students are, but I can also think of a whole lot of difficult ones that would be a serious detriment," Barnhart said in testimony.

Barnhart said Oregon should take action now to safeguard students' privacy before the technology starts popping up in schools.

Amid pushback from the tech industry, lawmakers rolled back an initial proposal that would have banned schools from requiring students to wear, carry or use RFIDs to track kids.

Supporters of the devices say the technology offers a cost-effective security tool that can be used to locate students quickly in emergency situations.

"We need to know who is inside our schools at all times," Jim Gingo, representing the Security Industry Association, wrote in testimony in May. "This is no different than asking a person to submit a state-issued ID, taking roll call at the start of class or scanning a barcode. The only difference is that (an RFID) allows all of this to be done quickly and automatically."

Gingo said restricting the technology could close the door on innovations that would improve school security.

But opponents say the technology tramples students' civil liberties and right to privacy.

Becky Straus of Oregon's American Civil Liberties Union said the bill sends a clear message that the state is committed to protecting students' privacy at school.

"This is a place where we want to teach kids that they don't have to accept the ubiquity of these technologies," Straus said.

As drafted, the bill would require the state Board of Education to regulate the technology as soon as the board is notified that a district intends to use the tracking devices in schools. Schools would have to give parents and students the option to opt out of wearing or carrying the tracking devices.

The bill now goes back to the House, which supported the original draft but must agree to the changes.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.