WASHINGTON, D.C. – Legislation introduced in the U.S. Senate this week is under scrutiny from privacy and disability rights advocates for provisions that would dramatically expand surveillance technologies in schools nationwide, despite lack of evidence or research to confirm these tools have any effect on preventing or predicting school violence.
According to The Guardian, “A new Republican bill that claims ‘to help prevent mass shootings’ includes no new gun control measures. Instead, Republican lawmakers are supporting a huge, federally mandated boost to America’s growing school surveillance industry… There is still no research evidence that demonstrates whether or not online monitoring of schoolchildren actually works to prevent violence.”
Future of Privacy Forum Senior Counsel and Director of Education Privacy Amelia Vance highlighted the challenges and unintended consequences that could result from the RESPONSE Act sponsored by Senator John Cornyn (R-TX):
Privacy advocates say pervasive surveillance is not appropriate for an educational setting, and that it may actually harm children, particularly students with disabilities and students of color, who are already disproportionately targeted with school disciplinary measures.
“You are forcing schools into a position where they would have to surveil by default,” said Amelia Vance, the director of education privacy at the Future of Privacy Forum.
“There’s a privacy debate to be had about whether surveillance is the right tactic to take in schools, whether it inhibits students trust in their schools and their ability to learn,” Vance said. But “the bottom line,” she said, is “we do not have evidence that violence prediction works”…
If Cornyn’s bill becomes law, “you’re going to force probably 10,000 districts to buy a new product that they’re going to have to implement”, she said.
That would mean redirecting public schools’ time and money away from strategies that are backed by evidence, such as supporting mental health and counseling services, and towards dealing with surveillance technologies, which often produce many false alarms, like alerts about essays on To Kill a Mockingbird.