Jun 052016

One of the other many exciting sessions I attended at the Privacy Law Scholars Conference this past week concerned surveilling students. It’s a topic I’ve blogged about a number of times on this blog, but given that this surveillance paper concerned its application in Israel, where the laws are different (even non-existent in some respects) and the way in which CCTV cameras are used varies widely across schools, the paper raises some important and fascinating questions.

Here’s the abstract of  The Hidden Human Rights Curriculum of Surveillance Cameras in Schools by Lotem Perry-Hazan & Michael Birnhack:

In this article we explore how school principals integrate Closed Circuit TV (CCTV) systems in their educational practices and analyze the implications of these practices on schools’ hidden human rights curriculum. Drawing on semi-structured interviews with school principals and municipality officials, the article portrays three approaches: (1) semi-legal disciplinary procedures, often used in a distorted manner, replacing educational processes; (2) real-time surveillance of students, which may include practices reflecting various objectives on a continuum, ranging from caring to policing; and (3) an inverted use of the surveillance systems as a mechanism of producing trust by deliberately refraining from gathering evidence in disciplinary investigations. We argue that each of these approaches shapes the schools’ hidden human rights curriculum, by which students learn about due process, privacy, and autonomy, and about the power relations that determine the scope of these rights.

This paper is part of a larger project, tracing the legal implications of the introduction of new surveillance systems in schools. The case study is Israeli schools, where CCTVs are being installed at an accelerated pace. An especially related paper is Perry-Hazan & Birnhack, Privacy, CCTV, and School Surveillance in the Shadow of Imagined Law, 50(2) Law and Society Review (forthcoming, 2016).

You can download a copy of the related paper from SSRN.

From our discussion of the paper, I learned that in Israel, there really were no regulations in place concerning the use of CCTV in schools, and principals had the authority to make the decision to use, where to use, and how to use solely at their discretion. Since then, the Ministry of Education has issued some guidelines.

Amazingly, if you’re used to our litigious and regulated system, it appears that in most, if not all, cases, Israeli parents were not notified that CCTV cameras would be deployed in the schools and they were not notified as to how they would be used. Some principals installed them for reasons of physical safety (i.e., to keep “bad guys” out). Some installed them but told students that in the event of any disciplinary action, the principals would not use the CCTV footage as evidence or even look at it. These principals told the investigators that they were trying to use CCTV in a “caring” model where the students would be taught that they were trusted. Other principals do use the CCTV footage for disciplinary action, generally to support zero tolerance policies they might have. It appears that as we have seen here, many Israeli school administrators have not been educated to know that zero tolerance policies are generally ineffective and may backfire.

Not only are parents not notified of the use and purpose of CCTV cameras, the study suggests that in most schools where they are deployed, the students may never get told how they are being used.

I asked Birnhack whether Israel has any student privacy laws. He responded that they don’t have any specific student privacy laws but that Israel’s general privacy law applies to children/students, too.

All in all, I found the use of CCTV cameras in Israel a bit of a head-scratcher, and the main question remains: what are the students learning/inferring from being surveilled? Are they learning to accept being surveilled? Are they learning that even if their misbehavior is being captured by a camera, it won’t be used against them (and good luck with that after they graduate and are out on the street!), or are they learning that adults don’t view them as trustworthy and they have no right to privacy? Do the different models of use which create a somewhat natural experiment predict student feelings about their right to privacy?

As part of their planned studies on this topic, the investigators will be interviewing students to try to understand their perception of the experience. I look forward to reading that one!

  One Response to “Surveilling students with CCTV: the hidden human rights curriculum”

  1. This sounds just like ‘VACCINE’.
    HS/Police are turning public CCTV cameras into surveillance cameras, Part 1

    “Although the [CCTV] cameras are not deployed for surveillance purposes, they can be utilized to increase public safety by properly integrating with current surveillance systems” said Yung-Hsiang Lu, an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering.

    “It is a research tool, although public safety and homeland security would be a great application,” Lu said. “The system can produce very large amounts of data. CAM2 has thousands of public cameras. If we retrieve one image from each camera every minute, we will get millions of images in a single day.”

    “We expect the number of network cameras and their coverage to grow substantially in the near future,” Lu said.

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