Gov’t RFID tracking: Creepy or mark of the beast?

When I first heard rumblings about school districts in Texas using locator chips to track students, I assumed it wasn’t true.

So my jaw dropped while reading this Associated Press story. It begins:

To 15-year-old Andrea Hernandez, the tracking microchip embedded in her student ID card is a “mark of the beast,” sacrilege to her Christian faith – not to mention how it pinpoints her location, even in the school bathroom.

But to her budget-reeling San Antonio school district, those chips carry a potential $1.7 million in classroom funds.

Starting this fall, the fourth-largest school district in Texas is experimenting with “locator” chips in student ID badges on two of its campuses, allowing administrators to track the whereabouts of 4,200 students with GPS-like precision. Hernandez’s refusal to participate isn’t a twist on teenage rebellion, but has launched a debate over privacy and religion that has forged a rare like-mindedness between typically opposing groups.

When Hernandez and her parents balked at the so-called SmartID, the school agreed to remove the chip but still required her to wear the badge. The family refused on religious grounds, stating in a lawsuit that even wearing the badge was tantamount to “submission of a false god” because the card still indicated her participation.

Now I find government agencies electronically stalking children to be creeptastic just for basic civil liberties reasons, but I’m intrigued by this religion argument. Most of the story focuses on either the involvement of civil liberties groups against the practice or the school district’s justification for the practice, which it assures everyone is mostly financial, with a bit of a nod to efficiency and security. (Funds are paid to schools based on attendance so kids who are ditching one class but still on campus can be counted for the daily tally.)

What I was really hoping for, though, was an explanation of the family’s religious views on the mark of the beast and how this RFID card relates to those views. On that front, I was a bit disappointed:

John Whitehead, [founder of Virginia-based civil rights group, The Rutherford Institute] believes the religious component of the lawsuit makes it stronger than if it only objected on grounds of privacy. The lawsuit cites scriptures in the book of Revelation, stating that “acceptance of a certain code … from a secular ruling authority” is a form of idolatry.

Wearing the badge, the family argues, takes it a step further.

“It starts with that religious concern,” Whitehead said. “There is a large mark of Evangelicals that believe in the `mark of the beast.’ “

At first I tried to find the scripture verse quoted above. Then I realized that it’s just a quote from the lawsuit and that the lawsuit cites scripture. I’m sure that if you’re already familiar with the line of thinking espoused here, you understand perfectly what this all means. But it’s a bit oblique for those of us who aren’t as familiar. I don’t quite get the religious objection, based on this story’s characterization of it at least. I found this Courthouse News Service write-up of the lawsuit a bit more helpful just because it quotes a bit more from the lawsuit:

A magnet high school is booting out a Christian student because she has religious objections to wearing the school’s chip-embedded ID badge, the student claims in court.

Andrea Hernandez, a student at John Jay High School and John Jay Science and Engineering Academy, sued the Northside Independent School District, Jay High School Principal Robert Harris and Jay Academy Principal Jay Sumpter, in Bexar County Court…

Hernandez and her father object to the badges, based on Scripture in the book of Revelation.

“According to these scriptures, an individual’s acceptance of a certain code, identified with his or her person, as a pass conferring certain privileges from a secular ruling authority, is a form of idolatry or submission to a false god,” the complaint states. “Plaintiff was offered an ‘accommodation’ whereby the radio chip would be removed from the plaintiff’s badge. Under this ‘accommodation,’ however, plaintiff would still be required to wear the badge around her neck as an outward symbol of her ‘participation’ in the project.”

Hernandez says defendant Harris has banned her from distributing flyers and petitions to other students at the school, arguing against the project.

I’m sure there’s much more that could be written about this passage from Revelation and how it relates to some people’s objections to RFID tracking devices issued by government agencies. It sounds like there was not much explanation in the court filings.


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