The Edmond Sun

Opinion

December 4, 2012

Was a Texas student really expelled for refusing to wear a tracking chip?

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Texas school district that began requiring its students to wear radio-frequency identification (RIFD) tracking chips this year is now facing a fight in federal court. A sophomore, Andrea Hernandez, has refused to wear the ID tag on biblical grounds, comparing it to "the mark of the beast." Last week, attorneys for the Rutherford Institute, a civil liberties group, announced that they're filing suit in federal court to keep Hernandez from being expelled.

The case has set privacy activists ablaze, and hackers claiming affiliation with Anonymous joined the fight recently by targeting the school district's website with a denial-of-service attack.

But those demonizing the district have ignored one key fact that could keep the case from being the big test of religious freedom, student privacy and government surveillance that some media reports are making it out to be. The school isn't actually expelling — or suspending, as some outlets have it — Hernandez for refusing to wear the electronic tracking chip. District officials have repeatedly offered to let Hernandez come to school wearing an identification card from which the RFID chip and battery have been removed.

"We have to respect their religious beliefs," district spokesman Pascual Gonzalez told me in a phone interview. "So we said, 'All right, if this is objectionable to you because it violates your religious beliefs, then we will not put the RFID technology in the card. But you still have to wear the ID card like every other student at school.' Daddy said no, and the student said no." Gonzalez denied a report that the compromise came on the condition that Hernandez agree to stop criticizing the program and publicly support it. "That's just untrue," he said.

The really interesting question is whether the school's RFID tracking program violates students' privacy. But that might be a tough case to make in court, given that we're talking about minors on school grounds. And the school's compromise offer also takes the steam out of claims that it has punished or harassed Hernandez because of her refusal to be tracked. The school's students use the ID chips to check in at the front door, buy lunch and vote for the Homecoming king and queen, but Gonzalez said Hernandez could do all the same things with the chip removed. "We were very explicit with her and her family that all of the access and services that she would have gotten with RFID would still be available via this non-RFID card," Gonzalez told me.

By framing her objections primarily in terms of religious liberty, Hernandez has won from the school a concession that renders the privacy issue moot. So her lawyers at the Rutherford Institute have to make the case that an even ID badge with no tracking capabilities runs counter to her Christian principles, as they claimed in the motion they filed in federal court last week.

Rutherford Institute President John Whitehead told me that, according to the Hernandez family's beliefs, "any kind of identifying badge from the government is the mark of the beast, which means that you pay allegiance to a false God." Adding that many Muslims and Jews hold similar beliefs, Whitehead predicted, "This is going to be a problem across the country."

No doubt Whitehead is right that we're likely to see more battles over RFID in schools in the years to come. But in the broader national debate over technologies that make government surveillance easier and more pervasive than ever, the religious-freedom issue is a red herring. These tags aren't the mark of the beast — they're the mark of a society grappling with troubling tradeoffs between convenience, security and privacy.



 

1
Text Only
Opinion
  • OTHER VIEW: Newsday: Lapses on deadly diseases demand explanation

    When we heard that the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had created a potentially lethal safety risk by improperly sending deadly pathogens — like anthrax — to other laboratories around the country, our first reaction was disbelief.

    July 22, 2014

  • Holding government accountable for open meeting violations

    A few weeks ago I wrote about the recent success of three important government transparency proposals which will go into law this year.

    July 21, 2014

  • GUEST OPINION — Oklahoma GOP voters want educational choices

    A Braun Research survey released in January showed that Oklahoma voters — Republicans, Democrats, and Independents alike — favor parental choice in education.

    July 21, 2014

  • HEY HINK: IRS interferes with citizens’ rights of free speech

    The patient is gravely ill. We have detected traces of a deadly venom in the bloodstream. We don’t know how widespread the poison is, but we know, if not counteracted, toxins of this kind can rot the patient’s vital organs and could ultimately prove fatal.

    July 19, 2014

  • 130408_NT_BEA_good kids We're raising a generation of timid kids

    A week ago, a woman was charged with leaving her child in the car while she went into a store. Her 11-year-old child. This week, a woman was arrested for allowing her 9-year-old daughter to go to the park alone. Which raises just one question: America, what the heck is wrong with you?

    July 17, 2014 1 Photo

  • RedBlueAmerica: What should the U.S. do about illegal immigrant children?

    The crisis along the southern U.S. border has politicians and immigration officials scrambling. More than 52,000 children, mostly from Central American nations, have arrived so far this year. The Department of Homeland Security is running out of space to hold them all.
    President Barack Obama is asking Congress for $3.7 billion in borrowed money from taxpayers to cover the growing “care, feeding and transportation costs of unaccompanied children and family groups” when our own veterans are not taken care of. Texas Gov. Rick Perry criticized the president’s plan, saying more money should go toward securing the border.

    July 17, 2014

  • VA scandal highlights the need to change Pentagon spending priorities

    The ongoing Department of Veterans Affairs scandal raises an important question: When our veterans are being denied access to basic health care, why is the Pentagon squandering billions of dollars on programs that do not benefit our military forces? Is there a link in organization attitudes?

    July 16, 2014

  • For better politics, it’s time for some raging moderates

    Like more than 20 percent of my fellow Californians, I am now classified as a no-party-preference voter, registered to vote but with no affiliation to any of the state’s political parties.
    I am for lower taxes and for marriage equality. I am tough on crime and I am anti-abortion. I believe that a pathway to citizenship is a necessary part of immigration reform and that student test scores should be a critical component of teacher evaluations.

    July 15, 2014

  • Father on mission to stop gun violence

    Since his son died six weeks ago as collateral damage to a troubled young man’s wish for vengeance, Richard Martinez has been asked whom he holds responsible.
    “I’m responsible,” the California lawyer answers, referring to most Americans’ failure to push harder to change gun laws after earlier mass shootings. “All those kids died and none of us did anything.”

    July 14, 2014

  • The Kansas City Star: Obama must end the public information barriers

    Mr. President, you have a public information problem. Again. Several months ago, journalism organizations complained about a lack of access for news photographers to pertinent presidential events.

    July 14, 2014

Poll

If the Republican runoff for the 5th District congressional seat were today, which candidate would you vote for?

Patrice Douglas
Steve Russell
Undecided
     View Results