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Should Schools Monitor Students Online?

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Despite schools being the safest they’ve been in over 30 years, more and more schools have turned to surveillance–facial recognition cameras, apps that track movements, and software that monitors email and social media accounts–in the name of safety. And the tug of war between student privacy and surveillance wages on while tech companies make a lot of money off this new industry.

TEACHERS: Get your students in the discussion on KQED Learn, a safe place for middle and high school students to investigate controversial topics and share their voices. Download lesson plan and get started on KQED Learn.

What kind of student surveillance is going on?

In the United States, federally-funded schools are required to have a plan for monitoring students’ internet lives. Some install monitoring tools on all school-issued equipment, like computers and tablets. Some just block inappropriate content. Others have gone much further, using monitoring tools that scan social media posts, emails, and Internet searches.

What is the argument FOR student surveillance?

This part is simple. It’s to keep kids safe from bullying, self-harm, and deadly violence, like shooters. And a bunch of tech surveillance companies–Gaggle, Bark, Securly, Social Sentinel, to name a few–are making a lot of money off of this new industry. One that’s getting all the more lucrative as most classes move online.


What is the argument AGAINST student surveillance?

The flipside is more complicated. There are many problems with it. The biggest is that we don’t have proof that it works, especially better than other methods. There are false positives in with scanning software and even the humans that filter through flagged content. Some of these tools can cause students to be afraid to reach out for help online or silence their political activities online. And these methods also seem to hurt students of color more.  Some online privacy advocates worry that it could make students way too comfortable with losing their digital privacy.


School Safety and Shootings

Indicators of School Crime and Safety: 2018

20 Years After Columbine, Schools Have Gotten Safer. But Fears Have Only Grown (NY Times)

More Parents, Children Fearful for Safety at School (Gallup)

Indicators of School Crime and Safety: 2017 

1999 Columbine High School massacre: Watch Eyewitness News archive coverage 

School security systems industry – US market overview 

Death Rates Due to Suicide and Homicide Among Persons Aged 10–24: United States, 2000–2017 

The Crisis in Youth Suicide 

A Majority of Teens Have Experienced Some Form of Cyberbullying (Pew Research Center)

Schools Turn to Surveillance Tech to Prevent Covid-19 Spread (WIRED)

The Constant and Expanding Classroom: Surveillance in K-12 Public Schools 

Student Surveillance, Racial Inequalities, and Implicit Racial Bias (Emory Law Journal)

School Surveillance Zone (Brennan Center for Justice)



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