There is no doubt we are living in increasingly Orwellian times. Most of us are not surprised when it is revealed that yet another government agency is spying on us in yet another way. Being surveilled nearly everywhere we go (and even in our own homes) has become the norm. And if it isn’t government agencies doing the spying, it is Big Tech companies. It seems like every day we are told about another privacy violation coming from Google, Facebook, and Amazon. Recently it was announced that Big Tech and government are forming an unholy dystopian alliance called HARPA that will use companies including Google, Amazon, and Apple to collect data on users who exhibit characteristics of mental illness that could lead to “violent behavior.”
Side note: If you think that avoiding the use of social media platforms will keep you safe from Big Tech’s prying eyes, I’ve got bad news for you.
Unfortunately, children are not exempt from surveillance and the growing police state.
Schools – once a place where children went to learn – have increasingly become Big Government indoctrination centers. One way in which this is becoming painfully evident is in the surveillance methods implemented by public schools.
This morning, I read a headline that sent chills down my spine:
Remember hall passes? They were little slips of paper that teachers gave to students to show they had permission to leave class for a few minutes.
In hundreds of schools across the US, paper hall passes have been replaced with an app that parents and students are finding particularly invasive.
The app is called e-hallpass, and here is how it works:
At a school using e-Hallpass, a student submits a request to leave the classroom through the app. The system notes any “red flags,” such as frequent requests by the same student. The teacher then chooses whether or not to approve the request.
If the student is granted permission, they can leave and the teacher logs in the app when they return. If the student takes too long, the app automatically pings an administrator to check on them. (source)
I visited the e-hallpass website to learn more about the system while I was gathering information for this article. I am not going to share a link to the site in this article for various reasons. If you’d like to check it out for yourself, the site isn’t hard to find online. If you do give the site a visit, be sure to check out the videos on the e-hallpass system. If you are liberty-minded and care about privacy, you will likely find them as disturbing as I do.
With e-hallpass, it isn’t just your child’s teacher who will know their whereabouts at all times – it is the entire school staff.
In the videos on the e-hallpass website, there is a lot of talk about “holding kids accountable for the time they are spending outside of the classroom.” Do we really need to micro-manage every second of the school day?
What if a student has a health issue that requires frequent bathroom visits? Those kinds of health issues can be embarrassing enough for child (heck, for anyone!) without being tracked and interrogated about why they were in the restroom for 10 minutes. And who dictates exactly how long a bathroom trip should take? What about students with conditions like IBS, and girls when it is “that time of the month”?
Students do not have to use their personal devices for the e-hallpass app, but they can use their own devices if they’d like to. This raises additional privacy concerns, for obvious reasons – apps are notorious for accessing data they shouldn’t. Imagine a child using the app on their own device, and that device syncing up with the family computers, and something like this or this happening.
What about the parents? Do they have a say in what kind of data on their child is collected and how it is used?
It is common for families to take precautions outside of school, enforcing screen time rules at home and limiting what photos they post of their children on social media. But controlling what happens at school is harder, in part because districts are not required to inform parents of every type of software students use. And the apps, as well as the schools deploying them, have different rules for how they use, share and store data.
Hundreds of applications, big and small, are being used at schools across the country to do everything from track homework to modify behavior. They can collect data about intelligence, disciplinary issues, personalities, and schedules. (source)
So, schools don’t even have to tell parents what kinds of apps and software they are using – and they are to be trusted with additional data on kids?
How do students feel about e-hallpass?
Christian Chase, a senior at Heritage High School in Virginia, shared his thoughts with The Washington Post:
“I just think it’s a violation of our privacy, and I don’t think it’s something that needs to be in place. I would understand if it was something for specific people or even underclassmen.” (source)
Chase has a petition going on Change.org. On the page, he describes how the system works and why he objects to it:
This year a new hall pass system has been implemented at Heritage High School for the 2019-2020 school year. The new system requires students to enter a code given from a teacher on a mobile device or laptop in order to go anywhere in the school, including using the bathroom, getting water, or visiting a counselor. You can be tracked throughout the school at all times while the pass is active, and administrators check to see who meets up in the hallways. This is a gross violation of student privacy and completely unnecessary. In addition to highlighting the complete lack of respect school staff has for the student population, many teachers have pointed out the extreme amount of time it takes to utilize this system effectively. The constant classroom interruptions caused by use of the E-Hallpass system is a major distraction to both educators and students alike. (source)
Students at an Illinois high school were surveyed about e-hallpass last year. The majority were not happy with the system:
One of the questions asked if students thought if the e-hallpasses were beneficial or not. The results showed that 80 percent of the student body responded no to the new system being beneficial. It is also commonly stated that “not only is bringing the ipad to the bathroom unsanitary, but e-hallpasses also disrupt class and point unwanted attention towards students.”
According to the survey, 70 percent of the student population feel as if the e-hallpasses can act as a distraction towards the learning process within the classroom. This is highly alarming and something that the school should really keep in consideration if this new process is beginning to affect people’s learning experience. (source)
Parents aren’t thrilled about the app, either.
Some parents expressed serious concerns about the use of the app. Privacy attorney Brad Shear, who runs the website Shear on Social Media Law, Life, and Tech, has two children in the Montgomery County school district in Maryland. He told The Post that if the district decides to test e-hallpass in schools, he and other parents are ready to speak up in objection:
I will not allow this app to be utilized in my kids’ schools, period. If the app ends up getting rolled out I will make sure that I get the PTA involved. This is bathroom big brother. (source)
In an article on the subject, Shear outlined how much it would cost taxpayers to implement the e-hallpass systems in all of the schools in his district:
There are approximately 165,000 students who attend MCPS. Currently, the service costs $2/student/year which is up from less than $.79 per student per year in 2016 (or a 120% increase). This is a massive increase in pricing in just 3 years. Therefore, to track how many times and how long it takes for students to pee or poop it would cost my county government at least $330,000 for the first year alone.
E-hallpass’ record demonstrates this price will most likely more than double in the near future. Therefore, should Montgomery County taxpayers spend between $500,000-$1,000,000 per year to track the frequency and amount of time it takes for students to pee and poop or should this money be utilized to hire more teachers, mental health professionals, and school safety officers to actually help make our kids safer and healthier? (source)
I’d argue that the money would be better spent on improving academics at public schools in the US, considering that the country is lagging in academic achievement when compared with other advanced industrial nations.
Some politicians are asking questions, too.
Recently, a few legislators sent letters to more than 50 education technology companies and data collectors, asking them to explain what kind of information they collect and how it is used.
The list of companies who were sent letters includes:
Google, Facebook, Smart Sparrow, DreamBox Learning, ScootPad, ST Math, Curriculum Associates i-Ready, Realizeit, Macmillan, McGraw-Hill, Snapwiz, Kaplan, Wiley Education Services, the College Board, ACT, Pearson, Student Opportunity Center, Cognitive ToyBox, AdmitHub, Upswing, Formative, Flocabulary, BrightBytes, Hapara, Intellus Learning, Civitas Learning, Education Elements, NoRedInk, StraighterLine, Turnitin, Cengage, VitalSource, RedShelf, Barnes & Noble Education, Canvas Instructure, Blackboard, Sakai, Moodle, D2L Brightspace, Edmodo, Quizlet, Schoology Accurate Leads, American Student Marketing, AmeriList, ASL Marketing, Caldwell List Co., Complete Mailing Lists, DataMasters, DMDatabases, Dunhill International List Co., Exact Data, InfoUSA, Lake B2B, NRCCUA and Scholarships.com. (source)
Even the FBI is warning parents about this kind of technology.
Last year, the FBI (I know, I know – they aren’t really one to talk about protecting the privacy of individuals, but here we are) issued a warning about the increasing use of technology in schools:
The FBI is encouraging public awareness of cyber threat concerns related to K-12 students. The US school systems’ rapid growth of education technologies (EdTech) and widespread collection of student data could have privacy and safety implications if compromised or exploited.
EdTech can provide services for adaptive, personalized learning experiences, and unique opportunities for student collaboration. Additionally, administrative platforms for tracking academics, disciplinary issues, student information systems, and classroom management programs, are commonly served through EdTech services.
As a result, types of data that are collected can include, but are not limited to:
*personally identifiable information (PII);
*behavioral, disciplinary, and medical information;
*Web browsing history;
*IP addresses used by students; and
Malicious use of this sensitive data could result in social engineering, bullying, tracking, identity theft, or other means for targeting children. Therefore, the FBI is providing awareness to schools and parents of the important role cybersecurity plays in the securing of student information and devices. (source)
The FBI’s report goes on to say that the widespread collection of sensitive information by EdTech “could present unique exploitation opportunities for criminals” and provides one troubling example of that actually happening:
For example, in late 2017, cyber actors exploited school information technology (IT) systems by hacking into multiple school district servers across the United States. They accessed student contact information, education plans, homework assignments, medical records, and counselor reports, and then used that information to contact, extort, and threaten students with physical violence and release of their personal information. The actors sent text messages to parents and local law enforcement, publicized students’ private information, posted student PII on social media, and stated how the release of such information could help child predators identify new targets. In response to the incidents, the Department of Education released a Cyber Advisory alert in October 2017 stating cyber criminals were targeting school districts with weak data security or well-known vulnerabilities to access sensitive data from student records to shame, bully, and threaten children.
Cybersecurity issues were discovered in 2017 for two large EdTech companies, resulting in public access to millions of students’ data. According to security researchers, one company exposed internal data by storing it on a public-facing server. The other company suffered a breach and student data was posted for sale on the Dark Web. (source)
Here’s what you can do to keep your children’s data a bit safer.
The FBI provides the following list of recommendations for families:
- Research existing student and child privacy protections of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), the Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment (PPRA), the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), and state laws as they apply to EdTech services.
- Discuss with their local districts about what and how EdTech technologies and programs are used in their schools.
- Conduct research on parent coalition and information-sharing organizations which are available online for those looking for support and additional resources.
- Research school-related cyber breaches which can further inform families of student data vulnerabilities.
- Consider credit or identity theft monitoring to check for any fraudulent use of their children’s identity.
- Conduct regular Internet searches of children’s information to help identify the exposure and spread of their information on the Internet.
The Parent Coalition for Student Privacy, which was founded in July 2014 by Leonie Haimson of New York and Rachael Stickland of Colorado, offers a free Parent Toolkit for Student Privacy you can download. Haimson and Stickland waged a successful campaign to shut down a $100 million student data-collection project funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and operated by a specially created nonprofit called inBloom. It was designed to be a massive student database that could make it easier to share information with for-profit data-mining vendors and other third parties without parental notification or consent.
Are children being conditioned to accept the expanding police state?
It seems like kids are being programmed to accept whatever “authority figures” demand of them – including monitoring their private bathroom activities. Children are being taught that privacy must be sacrificed in the name of security (the e-hallpass promotional videos mention “security” over and over) and are being conditioned to accept 24/7 surveillance as normal and necessary. Perhaps most disturbing is the fact that childhood is increasingly becoming criminalized.
In the article Say No to “Hardening” the Schools with Zero Tolerance Policies and Gun-Toting Cops, John W. Whitehead wrote,
America’s schools today are already about as authoritarian as they come.
From the moment a child enters one of the nation’s 98,000 public schools to the moment he or she graduates, they will be exposed to a steady diet of:
*draconian zero tolerance policies that criminalize childish behavior,
*overreaching anti-bullying statutes that criminalize speech,
*school resource officers (police) tasked with disciplining and/or arresting so-called “disorderly” students,
*standardized testing that emphasizes rote answers over critical thinking,
*politically correct mindsets that teach young people to censor themselves and those around them,
*and extensive biometric and surveillance systems that, coupled with the rest, acclimate young people to a world in which they have no freedom of thought, speech or movement.
Young people in America are now first in line to be searched, surveilled, spied on, threatened, tied up, locked down, treated like criminals for non-criminal behavior, tasered and in some cases shot.
Roped into the government’s profit-driven campaign to keep the nation “safe” from drugs, weapons and terrorism, many schools have transformed themselves into quasi-prisons, complete with surveillance cameras, metal detectors, police patrols, zero tolerance policies, lock downs, drug sniffing dogs, strip searches and active shooter drills. (source)
Sacrificing liberty for the illusion of security is dangerous.
Some people might believe that all of this surveillance is for our own good – that it somehow keeps us safe.
Others say things like “If you aren’t doing anything wrong, you have nothing to worry about.”
In a 2016 interview, Edward Snowden was asked about that concept. Here is an excerpt from his response:
Because privacy isn’t about something to hide. Privacy is about something to protect. That’s who you are. That’s what you believe in. Privacy is the right to a self. Privacy is what gives you the ability to share with the world who you are on your own terms. For them to understand what you’re trying to be and to protect for yourself the parts of you you’re not sure about, that you’re still experimenting with.
If we don’t have privacy, what we’re losing is the ability to make mistakes, we’re losing the ability to be ourselves. Privacy is the fountainhead of all other rights. Freedom of speech doesn’t have a lot of meaning if you can’t have a quiet space, a space within yourself, your mind, your community, your friends, your family, to decide what it is you actually want to say.
Privacy is baked into our language, our core concepts of government and self in every way. It’s why we call it ‘private property.’ Without privacy you don’t have anything for yourself.
So when people say that to me I say back, arguing that you don’t care about privacy because you have nothing to hide is like arguing that you don’t care about free speech because you have nothing to say. (source)
Back in 2014, Snowden explained that by saying “don’t worry if you have nothing to hide”, “You’re inverting the model of responsibility for how rights work”:
When you say, ‘I have nothing to hide,’ you’re saying, ‘I don’t care about this right.’ You’re saying, ‘I don’t have this right, because I’ve got to the point where I have to justify it.’ The way rights work is, the government has to justify its intrusion into your rights. (source)
If you don’t believe that schools are becoming more and more like prisons, please give the following articles a read:
While you might think requiring children to use an app to ask permission to use the bathroom isn’t a big deal, consider the big picture.
So what’s the answer, not only for the here-and-now—the children growing up in these quasi-prisons—but for the future of this country?
How do you convince a child who has been routinely handcuffed, shackled, tied down, locked up, and immobilized by government officials—all before he reaches the age of adulthood—that he has any rights at all, let alone the right to challenge wrongdoing, resist oppression and defend himself against injustice?
Most of all, how do you persuade a fellow American that the government works for him when for most of his young life, he has been incarcerated in an institution that teaches young people to be obedient and compliant citizens who don’t talk back, don’t question and don’t challenge authority? (source)
In Is Your Child a Student or a Slave? Daisy Luther wrote:
How do you create a victim? By teaching a person that things that make them uncomfortable must be done anyway. By teaching them to silence that inner voice that tells them something is wrong. By teaching them that they must submit to someone else’s control, regardless of how it makes them feel.