US schools intensify student surveillance in the COVID-19 era | #students | #parents | #parenting | #parenting | #kids

Millions of students participating in online learning are gravely concerned about how schools are monitoring their activity on and off campus and using their data. As technology continues to advance by leaps and bounds, critical issues of privacy, data use and basic democratic rights are being brought to the fore.

Just last month, the University of Miami was caught using facial recognition technology to track down students who attended a protest opposing the university’s reckless reopening plans.

The university emailed nine students who went to the protest to tell them the dean of students wanted to discuss the “incident” which they had participated in, referring to the small protest. When the students questioned the university dean, Ryan Holmes, as to how the university knew the identity of those involved in the peaceful demonstration, he told them the University of Miami Police Department (UMPD) had helped identify the students via surveillance footage.

Students and instructors gather on a video call on June 16, 2020. (AP Photo/Cedar Attanasio)

After a slew of bad press, the university released a short statement denying it uses facial recognition technology. While the university itself may not use the technology, it is evident that the campus police do. In the sheriff’s résumé, he states the school utilizes an advanced camera system with sophisticated algorithms for “motion detection, facial recognition, object detection and much more.”

This chilling incident raises serious questions regarding the basic democratic rights of students everywhere.

The incident in Miami is not an isolated event. Rather, it is part of a broad trend at K-12 schools as well as university campuses throughout the country. In many cases, schools have used the transition to online learning, brought on in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, to intensify the surveillance of students.

How widespread is student surveillance?

For years, schools have been using surveillance technologies to monitor their students through social media, facial recognition cameras, device usage, location data and more. As the technology has advanced over the years, the scope and depth of the surveillance and data collection has vastly expanded, with very little oversight or regulation.

It is no exaggeration to say that millions of students are monitored daily by private corporations contracted by schools. Gaggle, a leading provider of school email and shared document monitoring, says its technology is currently used to monitor a staggering 4.5 million students across 1,400 school districts.

This trend intensified after the 2018 Parkland shooting. Schools across the United States have since invested a substantial amount of funds toward student surveillance methods. The “school security industry” rakes in nearly $3 billion a year in the United States.

The recent shift to online learning in the wake of the global COVID-19 pandemic has prompted another wave of increased student surveillance. Over the last school year alone, school systems in more than 100 cities have started partnerships with Gaggle.

Businesses like Gaggle, Bark and GoGuardian are often hired to implement 24/7 monitoring of students on the premise that it “protects students’ safety.” There is, however, no factual basis to support the claim that these surveillance methods keep students safe.

Surveillance companies are able to monitor everything from professional emails to personal chat messages, without permission from the students themselves.

Bark for Schools, for instances, has a frighteningly long list of all things they are able to monitor online. Through Google Suite and Office 365 they are able to monitor videos, pictures, documents, emails, Google Chat messages and more. They also provide a monitoring extension on Chromebook that allows them to collect data on students’ web searches, visited URLs and page titles.

In 2017, GoGuardian, a web-filtering and monitoring company, upgraded its technology to scan through every page a student accesses on school devices.

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