Students will be tracked via chips in IDs

By FRANCISCO VARA | MYSA | MAY 25, 2012

Northside Independent School District plans to track students next year on two of its campuses using technology implanted in their student identification cards in a trial that could eventually include all 112 of its schools and all of its nearly 100,000 students.

District officials said the Radio Frequency Identification System (RFID) tags would improve safety by allowing them to locate students — and count them more accurately at the beginning of the school day to help offset cuts in state funding, which is partly based on attendance.

Northside, the largest school district in Bexar County, plans to modify the ID cards next year for all students attending John Jay High School, Anson Jones Middle School and all special education students who ride district buses. That will add up to about 6,290 students.

The school board unanimously approved the program late Tuesday but, in a rarity for Northside trustees, they hotly debated it first, with some questioning it on privacy grounds.

State officials and national school safety experts said the technology was introduced in the past decade but has not been widely adopted. Northside’s deputy superintendent of administration, Brian Woods, who will take over as superintendent in July, defended the use of RFID chips at Tuesday’s meeting, comparing it to security cameras. He stressed that the program is only a pilot and not permanent.

“We want to harness the power of (the) technology to make schools safer, know where our students are all the time in a school, and increase revenues,” district spokesman Pascual Gonzalez said. “Parents expect that we always know where their children are, and this technology will help us do that.”

Chip readers on campuses and on school buses can detect a student’s location but can’t track them once they leave school property. Only authorized administrative officials will have access to the information, Gonzalez said.

“This way we can see if a student is at the nurse’s office or elsewhere on campus, when they normally are counted for attendance in first period,” he said.

Gonzalez said the district plans to send letters to parents whose students are getting the the RFID-tagged ID cards. He said officials understand that students could leave the card somewhere, throwing off the system. They cost $15 each, and if lost, a student will have to pay for a new one.

Parents interviewed outside Jay and Jones as they picked up their children Thursday were either supportive, skeptical or offended.

Veronica Valdorrinos said she would be OK if the school tracks her daughter, a senior at Jay, as she always fears for her safety. Ricardo and Juanita Roman, who have two daughters there, said they didn’t like that Jay was targeted.

Gonzalez said the district picked schools with lower attendance rates and staff willing to pilot the tags.

Some parents said they understood the benefits but had reservations over privacy.

“I would hope teachers can help motivate students to be in their seats instead of the district having to do this,” said Margaret Luna, whose eighth-grade granddaughter at Jones will go to Jay next year. “But I guess this is what happens when you don’t have enough money.”

The district plans to spend $525,065 to implement the pilot program and $136,005 per year to run it, but it will more than pay for itself, predicted Steve Bassett, Northside’s assistant superintendent for budget and finance. If successful, Northside would get $1.7 million next year from both higher attendance and Medicaid reimbursements for busing special education students, he said.

But the payoff could be a lot bigger if the program goes districtwide, Bassett said.

He said the program was one way the growing district could respond to the Legislature’s cuts in state education funding. Northside trimmed its budget last year by $61.4 million.

Two school districts in the Houston area — Spring and Santa Fe ISDs — have used the technology for several years and have reported gains of hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue for improved attendance. Spring ISD spokeswoman Karen Garrison said the district, one-third the size of Northside, hasn’t had any parent backlash.

In Tuesday’s board debate, trustee M’Lissa M. Chumbley said she worried that parents might feel the technology violated their children’s privacy rights. She didn’t want administrators tracking teachers’ every move if they end up outfitted with the tags, she added.

“I think this is overstepping our bounds and is inappropriate,” Chumbley said. “I’m honestly uncomfortable about this.”

Northside has to walk a tightrope in selling the idea to parents, some of whom could be turned off by the revenue incentive, said Kenneth Trump, president of National School Safety and Security Services, a Cleveland-based consulting firm.

The American Civil Liberties Union fought the use of the technology in 2005 at a rural elementary school in California and helped get the program canceled, said Kirsten Bokenkamp, an ACLU spokeswoman in Texas. She said concerns about the tags include privacy and the risks of identity theft or kidnapping if somebody hacks into the system.

Texas Education Agency spokeswoman DeEtta Culbertson said no state law or policy regulates the use of such devices and the decision is up to local districts.

FBI to Launch Nationwide Facial Recognition Service

by Aliya Sternstein
NextGov
October 7, 2011

The federal government is embarking on a multiyear, $1 billion dollar overhaul of the FBI’s existing fingerprint database to more quickly and accurately identify suspects, partly through applying other biometric markers, such as iris scans and voice recordings.

As it happens with many other government power grab moves, this new initiative is surrounded by "convenience" in order for people to accept it more easily.

Often law enforcement authorities will “have a photo of a person and for whatever reason they just don’t know who it is [but they know] this is clearly the missing link to our case,” said Nick Megna, a unit chief at the FBI’s criminal justice information services division. The new facial recognition service can help provide that missing link by retrieving a list of mug shots ranked in order of similarity to the features of the subject in the photo.

Today, an agent would have to already know the name of an individual to pull up the suspect’s mug shot from among the 10 million shots stored in the bureau’s existing Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System. Using the new Next-Generation Identification system that is under development, law enforcement analysts will be able to upload a photo of an unknown person; choose a desired number of results from two to 50 mug shots; and, within 15 minutes, receive identified mugs to inspect for potential matches. Users typically will request 20 candidates, Megna said. The service does not provide a direct match.

Michigan, Washington, Florida and North Carolina will participate in a test of the new search tool this winter before it is offered to criminal justice professionals across the country in 2014 as part of NGI. The project, which was awarded to Lockheed Martin Corp. in 2008, already has upgraded the FBI’s fingerprint matching service.

Local authorities have the choice to file mug shots with the FBI as part of the booking process. The bureau expects its collection of shots to rival its repository of 70 million fingerprints once more officers are aware of the facial search’s capabilities.

Read Full Article…

A Texas Ranger Warns about Government Enabling Terrorism

by Chuck Norris
TownHall.com
September 6, 2011

Ten years ago, after 9/11, Americans chanted, “We will never forget.”

Today the White House is chanting that it is not “just about us.”

Chuck Norris on his role as a Texas Ranger

Alex Jones’ Infowars.com recently documented several examples of how the feds have “dispensed with all pretense of the war on terror being focused on Al-Qaeda Muslims.”

In April 2009, The Washington Times reported that Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano stood by a DHS intelligence assessment report that “lists returning veterans among terrorist risks to the U.S.” And in the same month, The Wall Street Journal reported that the FBI was running a probe targeting returning veterans as extremists and a major domestic threat.

At the end of last year, an Atlanta station, WSB-TV, reported that “the State Department is sending hundreds of millions of dollars to save mosques overseas.” The anchor noted that the U.S. Agency for International Development granted enormous funds for mosques in Cairo, Cyprus, Tajikistan and Mali.

In March, Judicial Watch obtained new documents via a Freedom of Information Act request that revealed that U.S. officials had apprehended 663 illegal immigrants last year with suspected ties to terrorist groups. Yet our borders and ports remain as porous for illegals as a screen through which gnats slip.

In the same month, ABC News reported that the “U.S. government formally requested the early release of a convicted terrorist (Mohammed Babar) from federal prison, even though the terrorist admitted that he continued to support the killing of U.S. soldiers serving in Muslim countries.”

Just a few weeks ago, as a part of its “If You See Something, Say Something” stoolie campaign, Homeland Security released two videos, in which nearly every segment shows a shift in federal strategy from catching foreign terrorists to targeting white middle-class Americans who are against big government as terrorists, including tea partyers, anti-Fed activists and even veterans. (These videos echo Vice President Joe Biden’s recent remarks that tea partyers are like “terrorists.”)

On Aug. 26, Fox News reported that the State Department is protecting the privacy of terrorists by refusing to release documents about Anwar al-Awlaki, the Muslim cleric who became the first American on the CIA’s kill or capture terrorist list. In response to a Fox News FOIA request for al-Awlaki’s passport records, the State Department replied, “The release of this information to you would be an invasion of personal privacy of another person, without written authorization from that person.”

It’s official: The feds have lost their minds, this time at the cost of forgetting the heart of 9/11 and all the sacrifices made to fight militant Islam since. Ten years after 9/11, the federal government has become an acute enabler of terrorism. It is suffering from a self-inflicted terrorist amnesia, despite the fact that even in the past two years, there have been 126 terror-related arrests, and all have been Muslims.

Read Full Article…

A Healthy Disease: Facebook Fatigue

Hundreds of thousands in Europe and Canada close their Facebook accounts. What will Americans do?

by Luis R. Miranda
The Real Agenda
June 14, 2011

Privacy scares, invasion of privacy and boredom prompted hundreds of thousands of Facebookers to close their accounts in Europe, Canada and it is estimatedthat thousands of Americans will follow them. Although social networking became an everyday practice, a part of people’s life, there is only so much users can get from a social network before it turns boring, annoying and unsafe.

Is the world experiencing Facebook fatigue?

Recent estimates show that so far, at least 100,000 people dropped from Facebook in Britain. In Canada some 1.5 million users decided to say goodbye to their “blue home”. Meanwhile, in the U.S. preliminary accounting reveals that 6 million people have logged off. But is this a surprise? Hardly. Privacy advocates complained about Facebook’s use of technology to gather more than the necessary information for people to become users.

According to the Mail Online, membership growth on Facebook has slowed around the world. Still, the social network is bullish about getting to the magic number of 1 billion members. Although Facebook membership continues to decrease in the developed world, in third world countries the number of people who sign up continues to increase. A reason for this is the fact that third world nations suffer from lack of access to technology such as internet, satellite and cable television, and so on. This makes it harder for people in those parts of the world to learn about social networks and consequently to use them.

According to the Mail, there is a possible “natural membership saturation” that may help Facebook and other social networks memberships to become stagnant. “In the U.S, user numbers dropped from 155.2million to 149.4 million throughout May. In Canada there was also a fall, of about 1.5million users, while in Russia and Norway numbers also fell by more than 100,000 use,” says the Mail.

When interviewed, Inside Facebook’s Eric Eldon says that once Facebook reaches half of a country’s population, the trend is for growth numbers to stop. Facebook users become bored just as any man or woman tries the next new thing, says psychologist Graham Jones.  “People get terribly excited about something new and after a while the novelty wears off. ‘Even if it is a new TV series everybody thinks it is fantastic at the beginning and things tail off.”

But how much of the decline stems on security concerns? Facebook just as Google and Apple have been caught lately using technology to gather information that many privacy advocates and users labeled as unnecessary and a violation of privacy. Facebook activated a feature that traces people in photos posted on the social network using face recognition software. The problem is, they did not warn users about it. Apple on the other hand, recorded iPhone users’ movements without warning users about it. And Google? Well, it is just one invasion of privacy after another.

Amazingly, most if not all of the data gathering occurring on Facebook Apple and Google was mandated by the United States Telecommunications Act of 1996. That means corporations are obligated to gather and record such data because the United States government demands it. Information gleaned from the Internet raises constitutional and evidentiary issues that must be considered, including privacy and the right against unreasonable searches and seizures, said Chief U.S. District Judge Gerald E. Rosen, who also is an evidence professor at Wayne State University. Evidence obtained from the Internet and social media sites also raises issues about whether the information can be authenticated, he said. To the Telecommunications Act of 1996 one needs to add the Cybersecurity Act of 2010, which greatly expanded the powers of government and its agencies to snoop around.

Facebook has continuously rejected accusations of invasion of privacy and through its spokespeople has always claimed that although they receive “significant volume of third-party data requests” all of those requests are individually and carefully analyzed for “legal sufficiency.”

But perhaps a more serious problem that Facebook alone gathering user data, is the fact that the government itself uses social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, Orkut and others to influence people. As reported by Russia Today in April, government intelligence officials make their rounds in Facebook and other social networks with the specific intent to gather information. According to former intelligence analyst, Wayne Madsen, government agencies use software such as Carnivore not only to spy on what people do, but to tell people how to do it.

The trend raises privacy and evidentiary concerns in a rapidly evolving digital age and illustrates the potential law-enforcement value of social media, experts said. “The FBI and other government agencies are facing a potentially widening gap between our legal authority to intercept electronic communications pursuant to court order and our practical ability to actually intercept those communications,” FBI General Counsel Valerie Caproni testified.

Invasive technology issues is not limited to the United States. In the United Kingdom, the government pledged to spy on every e-mail, call and web click under the excuse of national security and the war on terrorism. According to Tom Burghardt, state agencies ranging from the CIA to the National Security Agency are pouring millions of dollars into data-mining firms which claim they have a handle on who you are or what you might do in the future.

In July, security journalist Noah Shachtman revealed in Wired that “the investment arms of the CIA and Google are both backing a company that monitors the web in real time–and says it uses that information to predict the future.”

Shachtman reported that the CIA’s semi-private investment company, In-Q-Tel, and Google Ventures, the search giant’s business division had partnered-up with a dodgy outfit called Recorded Future pouring, according to some estimates, $20 million dollars into the fledgling firm.

blurb on In-Q-Tel’s web site informs us that “Recorded Future extracts time and event information from the web. The company offers users new ways to analyze the past, present, and the predicted future.”

A report concerning the current trend on Facebook fatigue published on mashable.com says that if the slowing trend continues for a couple of months, executives at Facebook may need to think about the company’s future. Could it be they have not done that yet? And if the reports about government involvement in data mining are as serious as described by Madsen, Burghardt and others -it wouldn’t be a surprise- then that fact alone may be the trigger for a massive migration of users to alternative communication technology. For example, people worried about Google keeping tabs on what they look at online, have the option to use StartPage.com, which is a search engine that does not record users’ data, although it has the benefit of providing Google search results.

If the boredom and monotony of Facebook and the rest of the social networks is not enough to make people shut down their accounts, maybe the explicit invasion of privacy carried out by the social networks on behalf of the government or through government intelligence agencies themselves will be a reason to consider disconnecting themselves from them. It is likely that the real impact of the so called “fatigue” shows its real effects once third world countries’ users -who lag behind- realize how dull and unsafe Facebook is.