- A majority of 14 to 18 year olds — 87% — are aware surveillance technologies in their schoolsaccording to a survey released by the American Civil Liberties Union of 502 students in October 2022. For example, students reported that their schools use video cameras (62%), monitoring software on school-provided devices (49%) and social media monitoring. (27%).
- The ACLU investigation also highlighted the troubling problems some students are having with surveillance technology in schools. Some 32% said these security measures led them to “always feel like they are being watched,” while 24% said school surveillance made them feel limited in their access to online resources.
- The report, as a whole, highlights that surveillance technologies – such as monitoring of school communications, online monitoring and web filtering, weapon detection systems and remote video monitoring – promote a false sense of security with little evidence showing that these technologies actually improve school safety.
The ACLU report comes as other investigations have highlighted community concerns about surveillance technology in schools.
From a parent’s perspective, a July study by the nonprofit Center for Democracy and Technology found monitoring on school-provided devices in particular, it has a mental impact on students, for example when technology flags certain content that may result in disciplinary action at school. The study, based on interviews with 20 parents of high school students, found that monitoring software can further undermine their trust in their children’s schools and teachers.
Schools often rely on this technology to eliminate harassment and inappropriate content and prevent potential violence. Some 40 percent of students surveyed by the ACLU also said school monitoring made them feel “safe,” while 34 percent said they felt “protected” by technology.
However, the ACLU cited research from a 2021 U.S. Secret Service investigation that found social media monitoring had minimal impact to end premeditated school shootings. The study, which analyzed 67 conspiracies against schools, instead found that the majority of these cases were reported based on observations of the conspirators’ peers, school employees or family members.
The ACLU also noted that other types of surveillance technology, including video cameras, were used in 8 of the 10 schools with the deadliest shootings over the past two decades, but have still not been implemented. managed to prevent these tragedies.
As investments in security products in schools and colleges increase, the ACLU said ed tech companies providing these monitoring services often rely on government funds, costing schools little or nothing. Artificial intelligence is also playing a larger role in implementing this technology in schools, including weapon detection.
When considering the use of surveillance technology, the ACLU recommends district leaders adopt the following best practices:
- Define the school district problem.
- With this identified problem in mind, evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of the technology.
- Solicit feedback from the school community on technology.
- Develop an analysis of benefits versus costs and potential harms.
The report further warns school decision-makers that they “should not rely on unsubstantiated information.” “effectiveness claims” from ed-tech monitoring companies, who are pushed to profit from the technology.
School leaders and community members also should not let fear influence their decision-making, the ACLU said. “While it may be difficult, better decisions are made through an impartial review of established facts,” the organization wrote.