Keeping tabs with high-tech tags
Japanese schools use ID system to bolster students’ security
By Kenji Hall: The Associated Press; Oct. 9, 2004

  TOKYO - Every time a fourth-grader passes through Rikkyo Elementary School's front gate, a small, gray plastic tag tucked inside his backpack beams a message to a computer in a nearby office.
  The students are oblivious, but the computer logs the time they enter and leave and a security guard watching the screen takes note. Moments later, their parents receive confirmation by e-mail.
  In Japan, high-tech tagging has made the jump from grocery stores to the schoolyard.
  Rikkyo officials hope the Radio Frequency identification technology will serve as an early-warning system for children who go missing.
  "This won't prevent crimes against children," said Tsukasa Tanaka, principal at Rikkyo, a private boys school in Tokyo. "But without the tags, we might not know that a student hadn't made it to school until we take roll. That's too late."
  Several high-profile child murders have shocked low-crime Japan, prompting Rikkyo to look into several types of electronic monitoring.
  The school, one of two in the country testing RFID tags, those them because other technologies such as satellite-based tracking would have betrayed too much information about students' whereabouts.
  With the tags - about the size of small key chains - officials and par-ents will know if a student is late for school in the morning. Parents also will know if a child takes longer than usual to get home.
  Like many schoolchildren in Tokyo, Rikkyo's students can spend as many as two hours getting to school by themselves on busy trains and subways. The school bans mobilephones, but parents wanted more assurances after the 2001 school slayings and recent kidnapping threats against one of Rikkyo's students, Tanaka said.
  "I think the tags are a good idea because my two sons almost never leave school together," said Kimiko Shino, a 38-year-old housewife who has one son in second grade and one in third.
  Shino said she has no worries that the tags, on which are stored only a child's name and class, could violate her family’s privacy.
  "Now I’ll know what time to expect them home," she said of her sons, whose commute to Rikkyo takes 30 minutes.
  Developed by Japanese semiconductor and computer maker Fujitsu Ltd., the tags use a technology that is beginning to gain widespread acceptance globally.
  Retailers and delivery companies use RFID to keep tabs on merchandise. Motorists with prepaid RFID cards zip through traffic toll gates without stopping. Delta Air Lines plans to adopt an RFID baggage-handling system at every U.S. airport it serves.
  The Food and Drug Administrat- tion has urged pharmaceutical companies to tag drugs to cut down on counterfeiting. Wal-Mart Stores Inc. has said it expects goods from 100 suppliers to incorporate the tags by January.
  And in Japan, sushi restaurants rely on RFID to ensure that raw fish left out too long on revolving conveyor belts is replenished.
  Although critics say proposals to embed RFID chips in driver's licenses - the state of Virginia is looking at the idea -would violate individual privacy, the technology continues to get even more personal. Mexico's attorney general said this year that he and his staff were getting microchip implants for access to secure areas of their offices.