Your School is Watching You Online…Should They?

From Above the Noise.

Despite schools being the safest they’ve been in over 30 years, more and more schools have turned to surveillance–facial recognition cameras, apps that track movements, and software that monitors email and social media accounts–in the name of safety. And the tug of war between student privacy and surveillance wages on while tech companies make a lot of money off this new industry.

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**What kind of student surveillance is going on?**

In the United States, federally-funded schools are required to have a plan for monitoring students’ internet lives. Some install monitoring tools on all school-issued equipment, like computers and tablets. Some just block inappropriate content. Others have gone much further, using monitoring tools that scan social media posts, emails, and internet searches.

**What is the argument FOR student surveillance?**

This part is simple. It’s to keep kids safe from bullying, self-harm, and deadly violence, like shooters. And a bunch of tech surveillance companies–Gaggle, Bark, Securly, Social Sentinel, to name a few–are making a lot of money off of this new industry. One that’s getting all the more lucrative as most classes move online.

**What is the argument AGAINST student surveillance?**

The flipside, less simple. There are many problems with it. The biggest is that we don’t have proof that it works, especially better than other methods. There are false positives in with scanning software and even the humans that filter through flagged content.

Some of these tools can cause students to be afraid to reach out for help online or silence their political activities online. And these methods also seem to hurt students of color more.

It also makes kids way too comfortable having no privacy online. Experts worry that it’s teaching students that being an adult means giving up your online privacy.


School Safety and Shootings

Indicators of School Crime and Safety: 2018

20 Years After Columbine, Schools Have Gotten Safer. But Fears Have Only Grown (NY Times)

More Parents, Children Fearful for Safety at School (Gallup)

Indicators of School Crime and Safety: 2017

1999 Columbine High School massacre: Watch Eyewitness News archive coverage

School security systems industry – US market overview—US-market-overview

Death Rates Due to Suicide and Homicide Among Persons Aged 10–24: United States, 2000–2017

The Crisis in Youth Suicide

A Majority of Teens Have Experienced Some Form of Cyberbullying (Pew Research Center)

Schools Turn to Surveillance Tech to Prevent Covid-19 Spread (WIRED)

The Constant and Expanding Classroom: Surveillance in K-12 Public Schools

Student Surveillance, Racial Inequalities, and Implicit Racial Bias (Emory Law Journal),

School Surveillance Zone (Brennan Center for Justice)

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About KQED
KQED, an NPR and PBS affiliate in San Francisco, CA, serves Northern California and beyond with a public-supported alternative to commercial TV, Radio, and web media. Funding for Above the Noise is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Silver Giving Foundation, Stuart Foundation, and William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.