By B.N. Frank
Over the years, American tech insiders (aka “Silicon Valley Parents”) have gone to great lengths to limit their kids’ use and exposure to screens. This has included sending them to private low-tech or no-tech schools, requiring nannies to sign “No Screens” contracts, and spying on nannies so they don’t break their contracts. In the meantime, American public schools have gone to great lengths to provide high-tech curriculums to students. This has included providing access to devices which may have been collecting data on them all along.
New Research Probes Surveillance of Students’ Online Activities
K-12 schools gave students laptops and tablets to let them learn virtually. But many schools also closely track students’ activities on the devices — and advocacy groups are raising the call for less invasive monitoring.
Providing students with school-owned devices has helped them learn virtually; it also may subject them to tight scrutiny whenever they use the tools to go online.
The Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT), an organization that advocates on technology policy, is raising concerns about how K-12 school systems track students’ online behaviors. It released new research today that examines the privacy risks of such practices and published a letter urging federal action. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and other organizations also signed the letter.
The topic takes on added weight because children in lower-income communities are likely to be subjected to greater surveillance than their wealthier peers. That’s because lower-income students are more likely to rely on school-provided devices, which school systems tend to surveil more heavily than they do activities on personal devices, per CDT findings.
Schools offering remote and hybrid lessons might use monitoring software that lets them watch students’ screens in real time, scan their emails, review their browsing histories and otherwise closely observe online activities, CDT stated in a new report. Children using personal devices might only be monitored when logged into school portals, for example, whereas those using school-provided laptops and tablets may have all activities on the devices surveilled, including those taking place outside of school hours or portals.
CDT recently released findings from a June 2021 online survey that found 81 percent of K-12 teacher respondents reporting their school uses some kind of monitoring software. Thirty percent of this group said that the tracking is always on.
The goals behind such surveillance can include checking that students are engaging with virtual lessons, watching for signs that might indicate mental health emergencies — such as children contemplating suicide — and monitoring to catch potential external hackers and malicious account takeovers, according to local school district representatives who spoke with CDT between April and June 2021.
In those conversations, CDT interviewed nine personnel from five different local education agencies to learn how they used and viewed the tools. Interviewees came from various roles, including IT directors and district administrators, and the school systems reflected different enrollment sizes, poverty rates and racial makeups.
Despite the potential advantages, there are also risks to closely tracking students.
Additionally, experts have warned and continue to warn about digital addiction as well as other symptoms, injuries, and illnesses associated with screen use among people of all ages (see 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6). Kids seem to be especially affected (see 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11). Research has also determined that kids are more vulnerable to radiation exposure from screens and other wireless technology. This has led to schools in the U.S. and worldwide replacing Wi-Fi with hardwired internet to reduce their exposure. Naturally, hardwiring devices for home use would be safer for them as well.
Activist Post reports regularly about privacy invasive and unsafe technology. For more information visit our archives and the following websites.
- Americans for Responsible Technology
- Electromagnetic Radiation Safety
- Environmental Health Trust
- Physicians for Safe Technology
- Wireless Information Network
Also See from Activist Post:
Provide, Protect and Profit from what’s coming! Get a free issue of Counter Markets today.