Tuesday, 21 August 2007

Spy in the Tie

The long summer holidays are almost over, and, as always, the shops are full of "back to school" type goods. Everything from laptops to pencil cases, and, of course, school uniforms are on offer, but one company has come up with a new twist on the traditional school wear.

Trutex, a 130-year-old firm based in Clitheroe, Lancashire, is contemplating a line of school uniforms with built-in satellite tracking gadgetry, that would allow parents - and schools - to know where kids are at all times. According to this article in the Daily Mail, parents are keen to know that Little Johnny has made it to school in one piece.

Not an unreasonable desire in this day and age, but, I suggest, they could achieve the same result by personally delivering their spawn to the school and picking them up again later. Technology is a wonderful thing, but it is no substitute for actually being there for your kids, and it's a mistake to rely on it too much, anyway.

The idea of bugging your child's blazer might seem like a quick fix to one of the 21st Century's problems, but it overlooks several enormous shortcomings. Firstly, in cases of child abduction, it is usually the child that is kidnapped, not their blazer. And since the media will be alive with descriptions of the missing child and what it was last wearing, you can bet it won't be wearing it for very long.

Secondly, kids lose things. Blazers, pullovers etc., get dumped on floors, piled up and used as impromptu goal-posts, hung on the backs of chairs, taken off, put down and forgotten. Anyone wanting to rely on their kid having the bug with them at all times would be far better off looking to fix it permanently to the child rather than hiding it in their clothing. Failure to realise that is only going to lead to a false sense of security.

Thirdly, as they get older, kids like a little privacy and independence. Yes, I know, they want it perhaps before they're really old enough - and wise enough - to have it. But they want it, nonetheless, and they will go to great lengths to get it. It's already possible for worried parents to remotely monitor the location of a child's mobile phone - a fact which annoys the hell out of some kids, and may even encourage them to go out without this very useful means of calling for help if they really need it.

For kids who already feel over-protected (and note I'm not saying there's no need to protect them, just that some kids don't like it), tracking devices in their clothing may be the final straw that leads to rebellion against much-needed protection.

And even if it doesn't, this concept raises some significant privacy concerns. It seems to me that, for a society already more obsessed with surveillance than any other in the world, this is a dangerous step. It encourages youngsters (those who don't rebel, anyway) to feel comfortable with remote monitoring of their activities, which can never be a good thing. Privacy is already a scarce resource, and it is becoming more rare every day. If upcoming generations don't recognise its value, it will soon be a thing of the past - for, once it is lost, it will be practically impossible to regain.

Billy Seggars.

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