Surveilling Surveillance

Submitted By:
Jonathan Gold, Moses Brown School, Providence, RI

Under digital surveillance: how American schools spy on millions of kids by Lois Beckett
The Guardian, October 22, 2019

This article takes a frank look at the methods of surveillance being deployed in schools across America. In the wake of school shootings and concerns about school safety, schools are increasingly turning to sophisticated, pervasive forms of surveillance to monitor students' communication on and off campus. Although "there is still no independent evaluation of whether this kind of surveillance technology actually works to reduce violence and self-harm," the article notes that school security has mushroomed into a nearly $3 billion a year industry with various companies claiming to have helped school officials intervene in countless situations. At the same time, Amelia Vance, Director of Education Privacy at the Future of Privacy Forum, notes that "[a] lot of the questions and a lot of the privacy concerns haven't [been] thought of, let alone addressed." While proponents of the technology point to its role in promoting safety and training students in "digital citizenship," critics point to civil liberties and privacy concerns, the problems of habituating students to constant surveillance, and the potential for algorithms to misunderstand what students write and do online, not to mention the dangers of involving law enforcement in ways that are unfair or prejudicial to students. While it is clear that schools need to use all the tools available for maintaining student safety, this article sounds a necessary alarm about the potential downsides to adopting surveillance technology without appropriate safeguards.

Student Wellness & Safety