Aug 282010
 August 28, 2010  Posted by  Featured News, Surveillance, Youth & Schools

Schools are increasingly invading student privacy both in school and outside of school.  Are  schools grooming youth to passively accept a surveillance state where they have no expectation of privacy anywhere? A commentary.

The increasing use of student surveillance and intrusion of school districts into students’ extra-curricular conduct should alarm us all.   Whether it is a district surveilling students in their bedrooms via webcam, conducting random drug or locker searches, strip-searching students, lowering the standard for searching students to “reasonable suspicion” from “probable cause,” disciplining students for conduct outside of school hours, searching their cellphones and text messages, or allegedly forcing them to undergo pregnancy testing, student privacy is under increasing threat.

The other day I mentioned a Connecticut school district that wanted to require students to carry an ID card with an RFID chip so that they could track their location. The surveillance capability included locating the student if they were off school premises and in town. Today, I came across another news story from earlier this month that also involves tracking students. KTVU in California reported that the Contra Costa County School District began introducing a tracking system for preschool students that would alert staff when a student leaves school premises. In order to accomplish that, students will reportedly be required to wear a jersey that contains the RFID tag that uses Wi-Fi to send signals to sensors located throughout the school.

I realize that some might argue that these are just little pre-schoolers and of course, we want to protect their safety, etc., but keep in mind that one of the major justifications for the program is to save staff time in terms of having to manually record attendance, etc. In exchange for that time and cost-saving, what price do we pay psychologically as a society? It strikes me that schools are grooming our youth to simply accept being tracked and monitored wherever they go and that anything they do, anywhere, can be used against them in school or elsewhere.

Is this really how we want to raise our children?  To be sheep who accept being tracked and who have little sense of privacy or entitlement to privacy?

A study released last year by Fordham Law’s Center on Law and Information Privacy found that the education sector was not doing enough to protect the privacy of student information.  It did not, however, look at the question of whether schools were actually invading student privacy and systematically eroding student privacy rights and autonomy.   It’s time for a national dialogue about student privacy, while there are still some remnants of it left.

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