They are tracking you – if you are a toddler being cared for at a certain Parisian crèche. This centre is planning to monitor the movements of the children placed in its care by placing a tracking chip inside their clothing. It’s the first time this technology has been used in Europe.
What’s your gut reaction to hearing this? Horror? Indifference? Relief? Is it any different from tying a rope round your toddler’s wrist? Is it any more intrusive than the tracking that’s already taking place through your Oyster card or your mobile phone? If you could surgically implant a tiny tracking chip into your child for just a few pounds – would you do it?
Lizzy Davies interviews some of those involved, and gets some reactions:
“The experiment … aims to prove the effectiveness of the system from the perspective of child safety,” said Patrick Givanovitch of Lyberta, a Toulouse-based technology company. “Thanks to the chip carried by each child, it will be possible to know immediately if one of them has left the crèche. The management of the crèche, and the parents, will be alerted straight away by text messages on their mobile phones.”
The plan by the crèche, which is privately run, has provoked criticism from the French childcare industry, with experts warning the measure is both pointless and potentially damaging.
“Shutting children inside a virtual cage will create feelings of futile suspicion and anxiety because of a non-existent danger,” Dominique Ratia-Armengol, chairman of the association of young children’s psychologists, told Le Parisien. She said the introduction of the chips could also loosen ties between the children and the adults “trained to educate and build a relationship of trust with them.”
Some critics say it is more about cost-cutting than child-safety; others that it’s simply unnecessary – given the fact that the closed environments of these childcare centres are nearly always safe and secure.
The most extreme critics accused the Lyberta scheme of starting France on the slippery slope towards a generalised surveillance society. “Chips in crèches take us a step closer to this hellish world where Big Brother reigns,” commented a blogger by the name of Victorayoli on the Mediapart website.
Givanovitch, however, dismisses these accusations as wholly disproportionate. “In this way, we know the child is inside the school or we also know he could be outside the school. It stops there,” he told French radio, referring to the use of chips on older children. “We do not track, we do not follow, we do not pinpoint children. We are just there to say, ‘he is in a safe area or he is not in a safe area’.”