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“Spying in schools becoming the norm” – More than 1,000 schools use software to monitor their students online use

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Child safety and security has been at the apex for years, but it’s questionable as to whether it has been the case at the expense of data protection rights.

Some data privacy campaigners argue that school surveillance goes beyond what is necessary and may actually breach data protection rights of the children.

It’s never been easier to keep an eye on people with technology these days – so are schools going too far?

Big brother style surveillance

This came into public light when more than 1,000 schools in the U.K. were found to be using software that “forces” staff to keep an eye on students while they work. Advocates for child safety believe the software to be effective for blocking student access to websites that could put them at a potential risk of grooming. However, the software does more than block access to these websites. It also allows staff to monitor the student’s every move through their web history, block access to certain websites, and observe what they are typing.

Some say it’s too far…

Are parents aware of this surveillance?

What is concerning is that some schools have installed the software without making the students or their families aware. This prompts data privacy campaigners to argue that, by not making them aware, there is a case to argue that it might be breaching data privacy rights.

They also argue that this level of extreme monitoring and online filtering may go “too far”. Why should schools have the power over their students in relation to what they are accessing? Shouldn’t students be afforded the same privacy rights just the same as everyone else?

Is the surveillance justified?

In regards to the online filtering – e.g. blocking access to adult-content pages – it’s understandable as to why this may be important for their safety, as many young individuals can be targets for grooming. It prevents putting the children at a potential risk of grooming. A 2015 Ofcom study showed that seven in ten 12 – 15 year olds have a social media profile. This is a huge percentage of students that may fall victim if the surveillance was not in place.

Accountability of schools

However, this does not take away from the fact that some schools are possibly guilty of unnecessary spying. Of the 1,000 schools in question, only one in six were able to provide details of acceptable use policies. This rings warning bells as to the legitimacy of the spying. Even if it is justified and legitimate, the schools must use the correct procedure to monitor their students. Only 26 schools were able to give information about the type of software they used and how it was used. This is a tiny percentage that seem to give reasons and information about the surveillance and online monitoring.

Shockingly, 123 schools failed to give further details beyond stating that students may be monitored while using computers in school. This effectively allows schools to deploy a ‘Big Brother’ style surveillance without giving any justifications.

Is surveillance becoming the norm?

Of the students and families that are aware of the digital surveillance, they do not necessarily have a free choice. They may have to sign policies that allow for the online monitoring, but may not know the complete ‘ins and outs’ of it. We are in the digital era in believing that surveillance is the ‘norm’ and it continues to be the case as monitoring in schools are quickly becoming common practice.

IMPORTANT: advice on this page is intended to be up-to-date for the 'first published date'.

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First published by Editor on March 07, 2017
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