Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Students and Surveillance

Below is a text summarization of this excellent article:


Instead, FERPA threatens to take federal funding away from schools who are found to have breached student privacy while it fails to mandate bare minimum security standards for the storage and transmission of student data. Though lawmakers and privacy advocates are regularly outraged at the immense volume of student data freely floating through the web, the repeated failure to create legislation that protects student data from being used for profit is astounding. In the case of Securly, the first filtering tool designed for schools, the controls set by IT and administration for web access can extend far beyond the walls of the school and determine what content students can access while using school- issued machines from their home internet connections.

 Though teachers request better and broader internet access for students in their classrooms, administrator-imposed blocks and filters on school internet leave most students woefully unprepared to navigate the realities of the web. When students do find a way around the tools used to limit their access to the outside world (this happened with a group of students who were given iPads in the Los Angeles United School district last year), they’re labelled as “hackers” or miscreants, and disciplined for using Tor, a tool popular among students for anonymous web browsing and circumventing blacklists that ban websites from school networks. While the company claims to only access posts that are public in the school districts they work with, and says it works closely with school districts to tailor their monitoring programs to prevent cyberbullying, suicide and active shooter incidents, it is very easy— too easy, in fact— to use such technologies to identify and target students who have been labeled deviant or delinquent within their communities, or who are otherwise outspoken and critical of their teachers and schools. After being pulled from class multiple times, suspended from school, and barred from attending a school field trip (the same punishment was not doled out to the male student involved in the messaging), the ACLU stepped in to defend the student’s right to privacy and free speech in communications outside of school property. Some of these technologies include:
RFID chips embedded into student badges to monitor student attendance (this is tied to state funding) and track student movement around on campus. By watching every move that students make while learning, we model to students that we do not trust them– that ultimately, their every move will be under scrutiny from others. Despite it being well within the scope of educational technology tools to track, identify and expose biases towards groups of students, technologists avoid implementing small changes that monitor educator performance and correct for unconscious biases that negatively affect student learning. Though the surveillance mechanisms at play in education technologies affect the privacy of millions of students who pass through the education system each year, this system is a profound, persistent threat to the privacy and individual liberty of LGBTQ students, low-income students, and students of color who have already been so severely failed by the status quo.

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