You would be hard-pressed not to have noticed increasing discussion about child tracking technology use and abuse these days. Just recently there has been a lot of debate about its use in schools, and whether this is a good idea or a bad idea. So what exactly are the issues for me as a parent? Should I be worried about the technology? Should I be considering using it myself? Are there other alternatives?
Looking at it from a parents point of view rather than from a school or state body position, frankly there can be very few parents who do not at some time worry about the whereabouts of their children, or what may happen if they were to go missing . It's a fact of life that very young children can and do wander, and no parent can watch their kids every single minute without getting distracted at some point. The problem is compounded when you have more than one child who are not necessarily wandering off in the same direction at the same time! I have had numerous occasions where I've been tending one child, only to realise that the other one has "disappeared". Although it may only be for a short period of time, it does not stop the horrible sinking feeling in the pit of the stomach when I can not see where my child has gone. Sometimes they may be standing right behind me, or just obscured from view temporarily, but it is enough to realise that I would very much like a way to know exactly where they are at any time. Just in case.
If things are bad enough locally, the problem is escalated when away from home, particularly while travelling abroad when the language is not our own language. What if one child should wander off and lose sight of us? How would they even begin to communicate with the locals simply to get help? An otherwise simple scenario can turn into something quite major very quickly in an unfamiliar area.
Whatever the reality of the situation – these are I'm sure typical fears of any parent. Am I wrong to be concerned about this? Am i wrong to consider using whatever means – technological or otherwise to ensure that I always know where my children are? If the technology works and is affordable, I will use it.
A different issue is whether to allow other people to track my children. This is already happening in some schools in America and is very controversial. I do not mind a school using technology to track my child, for example, when out on a field trip to an unfamiliar area. Preferably using a tracker that has only been temporarily assigned to my child for the purpose of that particular trip. Anything that helps ensure safety is good, as long as it is not used as an excuse for complacency by the teachers, and as long as they do not abdicate their responsibility to the technology. I would be concerned that they may pay less attention to their duty to look after my child if they rely too much on GPS trackers to do the job for them.
One school in the USA has been using child tracking devices attached to the children's clothing to keep track of their movements throughout the school and to ensure that they are actually where they are supposed to be at any given time. They have implemented this technology to alleviate a burden of having to take hourly registration of all students. This to me is potentially an abuse of the technology. It is an overkill in this situation, where the problem is simply one of administration. There are other ways to address this sort of problem, not the least is to consider whether hourly registration itself is really a necessity. If nothing else, it is an incredible waste of tax payers money if this "solution" is implemented across the country.
Given that recent advances in the technology have created a tracking device so small that it can be implanted under the skin, there will always be the concern in my mind that tracking can be abused by those in power. It's not as far-fetched as it may sound. In the UK for example, the Regulation Of Investigatory Powers Act (2000) grants the state extraordinary powers to intercept emails, monitor web traffic, tap phone calls and voice mail, utilise CCTV and so on. These powers were extended to hundreds of organisations and councils. You may think that we can trust those in charge to use the powers wisely and, say, allow the Police and other organizations to track hardened criminals and suspected terrorists. This would therefore seem quite reasonable. However, there have already been examples of incredible abuse of the powers. It has been used to allow surveillance of families suspected of fraudulent school place applications by more than one council. Other councils have used surveillance methods to check on people leaving their rubbish bins out on the wrong days, to spy on people who drop litter and those whose dogs have fouled in public places. It's akin to using a sledgehammer to crack a nut. It is also a small step for tracking locator technology to be added to the list of methods available (assuming that it has not already been added).
So there are issues surrounding this new use of technology, mainly because there is the danger that it can be implemented in the wrong way. Is the child tracking technology necessary? As a parent, I'd happily use it for my own peace of mind. However as a society, we have to make ourselves aware of how the technology is being implemented and ask ourselves whether we are inadvertently sleepwalking into a "Big Brother" state.