by Eileen | 8:45 am, January 10, 2013 | Comments Off
After writing yesterday on Andrea Hernandez’s disappointing loss in the first round of a fight to not be surveiled by her school district, I thought I’d share a link or two and some accompanying thoughts.
What Miss Hernandez has been asked to submit to is, oh, woe, neither the only nor the worst incursion against the dignity and privacy of students. Picking an example, an active case in Minnesota concerns a student who was browbeaten into giving her FaceBook passwords to administrators who then prowled her profile and provided a running commentary mocking her online behavior as she sat cringing in the corner. Her mother was not notified of this until it was all said and done. Taking such a cruel action against a child horrifies, or ought to.
There was no emergency. Believe it or not the entire thing began when the principal got anxious that the student was bullying an adult hall monitor by referring to the latter as ‘mean’ on her FB wall. So, no emergency makes us ask why there was no time to call a parent for a frightened kid. Over and over, schools tell us they must tread all over privacy to protect the delicate and helpless students from the scary world. Then they do things that belie that utterly. If your students can’t be relied on to maintain a social network without a nanny, by what logic are they fit to withstand an extended interrogation on their own?
The outcome of this particular case and the impact it will have are not yet known. But school districts and employers and damn near everyone else are increasingly covetous of social media data. Multiple states have passed laws specifically banning demanding someone’s social media passwords as a condition of employment, academic enrollment, etc. Honestly, I’d like to live in a society where we don’t need the force of the state to see people observe something so profoundly basic as not threatening to fire people if they don’t let you read something that is the 21st century version of a diary, And I don’t think that’s too much to ask. How we got to the point where we think so little of one another and of ourselves that such repugnant behavior is even tried will await another day.
Underlying this nasty entitlement to peep at another person’s private life is an odd effect of the cyber explosion. Large portions of our lives now occur online, and the tendency of some is to treat this as if that content isn’t private the same way as, say, a conversation held in your own home would be. It’s a legal frontier and we’re falling down when it comes to making sure policy keeps pass with technology. A frequent argument of those who would bully us for passwords and access codes is that anything online might be defined as occurring wherever it suits the bully to say it occurred. A student who makes a personal observation on her private social media page, outside school hours, off school property, and using a computer and network that don’t belong to the school is wronged and the school’s justification is that she was writing about things that happened at school – therefore it’s speech they’re entitled to regulate. What. The. Hell?
On the bright side, outrageous attempts at monitoring may be causing people to beef up their privacy protections, guard their reputations, and stand up for themselves. One thing I worry about there is whether we’re on our guard against attacks from all possible sides. Let me step back for a moment; there are at least two Western concepts of privacy – one American and one Continental. The former views the state as the threat to privacy and seeks to arm citizens against an intrusive government. The latter views other people as the threat and welcomes the state as an ally in protecting privacy. We have two Amendments that specifically limit the state’s ability to come into our home without an invitation or a damn good reason, but we also have a billion dollar industry dedicated to gawking at celebrities. Europe has no problem with letting the government barge in and count the number of television sets, but they’re unforgiving, to say the least, on slander. Both views have some things right and they aren’t incompatible.
I offer this highly compacted overview of comparative privacy theory to give context to my observation that Americans, while getting suitably irate about private sector surveillance, are not nearly as alarmed at state intrusions as they should be. To bring things full circle, a survey released yesterday had some interesting insights about how parents view abuses of their children’s’ privacy in schools. Make no mistake, there are private sector violations enough. Companies who hold contracts to provide web services track and monetize the browsing habits of children using school computers. Students receive targeted messages based on prior online behavior. And don’t forget the ‘sexting’ – not a privacy matter per se, but parents are concerned.
The commonality here is that these are concerns over what private companies do with student data. I agree that’s a problem, but I hold it to be a parent’s role to monitor and guide a child’s on-line conduct and to teach the child to have an understanding of how to stay safe online and how to stand up for her own privacy. And it is an educator’s role to protect the privacy of students, especially those who are young and so thoroughly awash in hormones that sexting seems a wise idea. What I did not see in that study was a single item on how parents feel about state mandated privacy-intrusions. In light of RFID chips, humiliating a child while prying through her FB wall, and the rest of the sordid stories about out-of-control school administrators, I’ve just got to wonder why more parents aren’t baying for the blood of the local school board. Trusting our government to act as champions of student privacy is setting the fox to guard the hens. Given that this post largely concerns our school system, it’s only natural to suggest educating parents about those risks.
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