In the wake of the February 2018 school shooting in Parkland, Florida, school surveillance has become a big business, with school districts spending more than $8 million per year on ways to electronically monitor their students. At The Guardian, Lois Beckett has documented the extent of these systems, which can monitor everything typed on school-provided laptops and in school-managed student communication systems. If a student says or searches for something concerning, school administrators can, and have, responded in minutes, whether that means pulling a student out of class or sending police to the student’s house at night.
While the article highlights potentially bad situations—notably suicides and threats to others—that were averted thanks to these surveillance systems, it also raises serious questions about both student privacy today and the future in general. A representative from Gaggle, one of the school monitoring companies, argues that its surveillance systems prepare students for the workforce, where they can also expect to be heavily monitored.
Schools are in a tough situation here. Federal law requires them to “monitor” students’ online activities, although what counts as monitoring has never been clearly defined. There’s no question that schools need to provide a safe environment for students, but how far they should go remains open for debate.