Opposition to Student Tracking System Prompts Cyber Attack

By Mike Bock — November 26, 2012 2 min read
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A representative from Texas’ Northside Independent School District told Education Week the district’s website was attacked by hackers Saturday night, but never breached, in what school officials believe was a protest against a pilot program that uses microchips in ID cards to track students.

“There has been no breach of any confidential information,” said Pascual Gonzalez, executive director of the district’s Department of Communications.

Gonzalez said there was “a flurry” of Internet activity on Saturday that caused the Northside Web site to slow down a little bit, but the site did not actually shut down. The increased site activity was likely the result of a denial of service attack, in which a site is flooded with access requests, ultimately using all of the site’s allotted bandwidth and paralyzing the site’s server.

Gonzalez said the school’s IT department is documenting and monitoring the source of the attack, and the information will be turned over to law enforcement officials. In addition, school officials are monitoring a Twitter account that was used to send threatening messages to the Northside School District.

“There is obviously a threat out there, and we take threats extremely seriously,” said Gonzalez.

The attacks are thought to be connected to a new pilot project that requires the 4,200 students at Jay High School and Jones Middle School to wear microchip-embedded student ID cards that can track their every move on campus. The controversial program has been attacked as an Orwellian breach of privacy, but school officials said the microchips are useful for tracking student attendance. Since Texas is one of the many states that use attendance-based federal aid funding, the microchips can (in theory) be used to identify students who are not in their seats during roll call but who are on school grounds.

The microchip program made national headlines when a student at Jay High School refused to carry the new school ID card, citing religious reasons (the student has publicly referred to the microchip as “the mark of the beast.”) Though various news agencies reported that the student was threatened with expulsion for not wearing the microchip, Gonzalez said the school’s principal offered her a religious exemption and allowed her to carry a non-digital ID card. Since the student, a member of the school’s magnet program, rejected the offer, she will likely be re-assigned to a school in her home district, where student identification cards do not have microchips.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Digital Education blog.