Recently the Canadian government put forward legislation called Bill C-13. Politicians cast the bill as anti-bullying, referring to the bill as the “Protecting Canadians from Online Crime Act.” For example, the bill makes it a criminal offence to publish or distribute intimate images without consent.1 While some laud the government for taking steps to curb cyberbullying and defamation others criticize the bill for its additional measures that give the government greater access to personal information, particularly of suspected criminals. So there it is, the two-edged sword. In the institutional approach toward cyberbullying there is the tension between steps to protect against cyberbullying versus the steps that allow governments greater access to personal data.
Recently, Microsoft stated that “government snooping potentially constitutes an advanced persistent threat” to online privacy.2 Edward Snowden intercepted Yahoo and Google emails, more than 100 million in February 2013 alone. And then he released to the public those emails.2 And while both Google and Yahoo have since tightened their privacy policies, government court orders could ultimately reveal what the public imagines to be private.
Snowden brought to light both NSA and UK surveillance programs, and some argue that the surveillance happens outside the rule of law.3 The UK surveillance program, known as Tempora is supposedly part of a larger coordinated effort known as “Five Eyes” involving the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.3 Surveillance of this magnitude was revealed by Snowden but has yet to be justified by the governments involved. Without law or proper enforcement of law, the risks of government snooping can exceed the potential benefits. What is the legal framework for surveillance? Who is accountable to whom? Is there a risk of renewed episodes of McCarthyism if the gathering of data becomes pernicious? Is the risk of secretive surveillance proportionate to the benefits of the data gathering?
So…….how do schools protect student privacy while remaining vigilant against cyberbullying? How does a school give respect the data it gathers as it surveys the digital activity across its campus? Are there policies to define and check inappropriate use of the data by individuals within the institution? To what degree is the right to Freedom of Speech respected within the bounds of the school culture, within the context of data surveillance? Well, we may have an answer; there is a test case.
The Glendale Unified School district (California) has recently hired a company to monitor the online activities of over 13,000 students, including Facbook.4 (See here for a news clip.) The company monitors cyberbullying as well as any type of criminal activity, as well as class-cutting.4 Anything publicly posted that poses a potential threat to the school is monitored at a cost of over $40,000.5 Interestingly, the company says that it only monitors information that is already public, and supposedly has already intervened in a potential suicide situation. Nevertheless, critics of the surveillance claim a violation of privacy, as they liken the surveillance to going out and following students to know what they do on their own time.
In practical terms, what does surveillance do to the culture of the school? The school-student relationship is not unlike the student-parent relationship. Nurturing and trust are critical to the relationship. Should parents snoop? Not unless one is willing to have the difficult confrontations with their children that sever the trust. Should the school snoop? Not if the institution wishes to develop a culture of trust.
1) Hawes, J., December 3, 2013, Proposed Canadian cyber law – anti-bullying or pro-snooping? http://nakedsecurity.sophos.com/2013/12/03/proposed-canadian-cyber-law-anti-bullying-or-pro-snooping/
2) Wagstaff, K, Microsoft says government snooping as bad as ‘malware and cyber attacks, http://www.nbcnews.com/tech/security/microsoft-says-government-snooping-bad-malware-cyber-attacks-f2D11697924
3) Woods, B., July 8, 2013, Privacy International files legal action against UK government over PRISM and Tempora cyber snooping http://thenextweb.com/uk/2013/07/08/privacy-international-files-legal-action-against-uk-government-over-prism-and-tempora-cyber-snooping/#!vgpz1
4) Kent, E. October 9, 2013, Social Media Today, School District in L.A. Monitors Students’ Social Media Activity, http://socialmediatoday.com/elizabethkent/1808581/school-monitors-students-social-media-activity
5) Patchin, J., September 17, 2013, Cyberbullying Research Center, Should Schools Monitor Students’ Social Media Accounts? http://cyberbullying.us/schools-monitor-students-social-media-accounts/
6) Martinez, M. September 18, 2013, CNN California school district hires firm to monitor students’ social media, http://edition.cnn.com/2013/09/14/us/california-schools-monitor-social-media/