Schools are increasingly adopting surveillance technology to spy on students while they’re at school, at home, or even on their social media. The companies that make these surveillance products and services advertise them to schools as a way to keep students safe–but there’s no evidence so far that they actually protect students, and worst of all, they can harm the people they are supposed to protect.
Surveillance isn’t normal–it’s spying. Schools that use these technologies to track and monitor students are violating their privacy. If you’re a student being spied on by one of these technologies, you’re right to be concerned.
Privacy as a Team Sport
Protecting your privacy is a job no one can do alone. While there are many steps you can take to protect your privacy on your own, the real protection comes when we protect each others’ privacy as a group. If you change your own tools and behavior, but your classmates don’t, it’s more likely that information about you will be caught up in the surveillance they are under as well.
Let’s use an example scenario to explore how this could happen:
You’re socializing with friends from your school, and some who go to other schools. You turned off location tracking on your mobile device, but your friends haven’t. Their devices are tracking all of their movements and how long they are in a location. One of your classmates takes a picture of everyone with their mobile device. Since their mobile device is tracking their location, this information is included in the picture’s metadata. Your friend posts the picture on their public social media profile and tags you. If your school is conducting social media surveillance, they can see who posted the picture, everyone in the picture, and the time and location the picture was taken. Even though you tried to keep yourself from being tracked, your school now knows all of this information–not just about you, but about everyone in your friend group who was there.
You are only as protected as the least-protected person in your social group. That’s why it’s important to help each other and protect your privacy as a team.
You may wonder, “How could the information gathered in this scenario be used to harm me or my friends?” Here are some examples:
Your friends who don’t attend your school are now included in your school’s surveillance system dragnet and don’t know they have been surveilled.
You and your friends might be attending an LGBTQ+ event when the photo was taken. If you share or discuss this photo on social media while being under school surveillance, it may trigger a scanning technology’s list of keywords and notify school officials. If school officials have biases against LGBTQ+ people–or if the school gives unsupportive parents access to this information via a dashboard, parent login, or even direct notifications–this could put you or your friend’s well-being at risk.
You might be doing political organizing for a cause, and if you’re at a private or religious school, the school and/or your parents may not approve of it depending on the issue. In this scenario, your school could suspend you or your parents could punish you for this activity.