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USA Schools Are Normalising Intrusive Surveillance

As the authors detail, among the technologies are surveillance cameras. These are often linked to software for facial recognition, access control, behavior analysis, and weapon detection. That is, cameras scan student faces and then algorithms identify them, allow or deny them entry based on that ID, decide if their activities are threatening, and determine if objects they carry may be dangerous or forbidden.

“False hits, such as mistaking a broomstick, three-ring binder, or a Google Chromebook laptop for a gun or other type of weapon, could result in an armed police response to a school,” cautions the report.

That’s not a random assortment of harmless-until-misidentified items; a footnoted 2022 Charlotte Observer piece points out such objects were tagged as weapons by scanners in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. “A how-to video posted earlier this year by administrators at Butler High School instructs students to remove certain belongings from their backpacks — and walk through the scanner holding their laptops above their heads — to avoid setting off a false alarm,” it adds.

Huh. What happens if behavior analysis algorithms decide that brandished laptops are threatening?

Also called out is software that monitors social media, students’ communications, and web-surfing habits. Audio monitors that are supposed to detect gunshots—but can be triggered by slammed doors (as at Greenwood High School in Arkansas earlier this year)—also feature in many schools.

Of students aged 14–18 surveyed by the ACLU, 62 percent saw video cameras in their schools (the U.S. Department of Education says cameras are used by 91 percent of public schools), and 49 percent reported monitoring software. Understandably, this affects their behavior. Thirty-two percent say, “I always feel like I’m being watched,” and 26 percent fret over what their “school and the companies they contract with do with the data.”

“Research demonstrates the damaging effect of surveillance on children’s ability to develop in healthy ways,” Fedders added. “Pervasive surveillance can create a climate in which adults are seen as overestimating and overreacting to risk. Children, in turn, cannot develop the ability to evaluate and manage risk themselves in order to function effectively.”

Notably, school surveillance normalizes the idea that constant monitoring is good and necessary for preserving safety.

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School surveillance tech does more harm than good, ACLU report finds

An ACLU report has found that despite claims from companies, surveillance technology in US schools does not improve student safety and constant surveillance can, in fact, cause a number of harms to students including making students less likely to report dangerous behavior.

Schools typically use technologies such as cameras, facial recognition software and communication monitoring and filtering technology, which have been marketed by education technology surveillance companies as intervention tools against school shootings, suicides and bullying. In 2021, US schools and colleges spent $3.1bn on these products and this number is expected to grow by 8% every year, according to the report.

But the ACLU’s report concludes that there is little to no independent research or evidence that supports that this technology works.

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How mass surveillance silences minority opinions

“A new study shows that knowledge of government surveillance causes people to self-censor their dissenting opinions online. The research offers a sobering look at the oft-touted “democratizing” effect of social media and Internet access that bolsters minority opinion.

The study, published in Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, studied the effects of subtle reminders of mass surveillance on its subjects. The majority of participants reacted by suppressing opinions that they perceived to be in the minority. This research illustrates the silencing effect of participants’ dissenting opinions in the wake of widespread knowledge of government surveillance, as revealed by whistleblower Edward Snowden in 2013.

The “spiral of silence” is a well-researched phenomenon in which people suppress unpopular opinions to fit in and avoid social isolation. It has been looked at in the context of social media and the echo-chamber effect, in which we tailor our opinions to fit the online activity of our Facebook and Twitter friends. But this study adds a new layer by explicitly examining how government surveillance affects self-censorship.”

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Study: The Chilling Effect of Mass Surveillance with Social Media

“Research suggests that widespread awareness of mass surveillance could undermine democracy by making citizens fearful of voicing dissenting opinions in public. A paper published in Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, the flagship peer-reviewed journal of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC), found that “the government’s online surveillance programs may threaten the disclosure of minority views and contribute to the reinforcement of majority opinion.” The NSA’s “ability to surreptitiously monitor the online activities of U.S. citizens may make online opinion climates especially chilly” and “can contribute to the silencing of minority views that provide the bedrock of democratic discourse,” the researcher found.”

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