What right does a public school have to spy on the private life of any student? Once a student leaves school property, all responsibility of the school should end, but in many cases it’s just getting started.
Spying on student’s private lives is becoming big business for companies. Consider the following report from Victor Skinner on EAGnews.org:
“The Huntsville, Alabama school district, for example, hired a former FBI agent on a $157,000 annual salary in January to lead a team of three staffers who track what students post on Facebook, Twitter and Reddit and other sites, according to WHNT.”
“So far, the team has uncovered threatening or inappropriate online comments that lead to the expulsion of 14 students.”
“After two students in the Los Angeles suburb of Glendale committed suicide in recent years, district officials there hired a tech firm at $40,500 per year to track what students post publicly online. Chris Frydrych, CEO of the firm Geo Listening, told CNN the software has already helped one student who posted on social media about ending his life.”
“‘We were able to save a life,’ Glendale superintendent Richard Sheehan said. ‘It’s just another avenue to open up a dialogue with parents about safety.’”
“David Jones, president of another tracking company – Safe Outlook Corporation – said he has several clients who pay between $4,000 and $9,000 per year for CompuGardian, which has some very in-depth snooping capabilities.”
Are these snoopers and snooping software an invasion of privacy? Do students have First Amendment rights of free speech that are being infringed upon by school districts?
Skinner reports that school snooping has led to legal rulings and gray areas on both side of the argument:
“CNN highlighted a Florida law enacted last summer that gives school officials the authority to comb a student’s Facebook posts and emails if a parent or student notifies them about off-campus bullying, but Wayne Blanton, executive director of the Florida School Boards Association said the tracking issue can be ‘a gray area that could … lead to a lot of litigation.’”
“‘I think (privacy is) the biggest issue you’re wrestling with when you start intercepting someone’s messages,’ he said. ‘Should I intercept your messages based on certain words? You’re really getting into a gray area that could potentially lead to a lot of litigation.’”
“And different states and courts have different takes on the balance between maintaining school safety and student privacy rights.”
“‘Cases in point: In September 2013 in Nevada, a federal appeals court backed school officials in the suspension of a high school student who allegedly threatened his classmates with violence on Myspace. But in Indiana in 2011, a court found that school officials had violated students’ free speech rights when two girls were suspended from extracurricular activities for posting pictures of themselves with phallic-shaped lollipops,’ CNN reports.”
“‘And, in March 2014, a Minnesota student was awarded a $70,000 settlement after her school district forced her to turn over passwords for her Facebook and email accounts, according to the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota. As part of the settlement, the school district has agreed to change its policies to better protect students’ rights.’”
If you’re a parent, how would you feel if you found out that your child’s school is spying on your son or daughter when they are away from school? If that doesn’t make you uneasy, I’ve heard of cases where the spying companies or software follow the links and friends of your child and can pick up on what they are saying and doing online even if they have no connection to the school.
What about the schools that have been using tracking chips in student IDs that allows them to track where your child is, even when they are away from the school? Do you think it’s fair for a school to take disciplinary action for something a student does on their own time away from school? I recall a girl, Erin Cox, who was disciplined by her school because she responded to a friend’s call to be picked up after having drank too much. When she showed up to pick up her friend, the police arrived and made arrests of a number of people for being minors with alcohol. When the school found out she was there at the time, they demoted her from being captain of the volleyball team and suspended her for 5 games.
The NSA, FBI and IRS and who knows what other federal agencies are spying on many of us, especially outspoken conservative patriotic Christians like myself. Stores and retail marketers spy and monitor your online and in store purchases. Cable companies monitor what you watch on television and some newer televisions allow for even more intrusive spying. Now we have schools hiring professionals to spy on students and invade their private lives.
If you’ve never read George Orwell’s novel 1984 about Big Brother, I strongly suggest you do so because that seems to be the world we are heading into.