surveillance tech creeps into the classroom (Wired UK)


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Surveillance and biometric technology has been
creeping into schools under the guise of keeping our little
darlings safe, but what are the privacy implications?


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Imagine if your workplace told you it was installing CCTV
cameras in meeting rooms, bathrooms and changing rooms. Now imagine
that the feeds of the meeting rooms could be accessed by others
online so that they could monitor your performance at any time. At
the same time, it would introduce a biometric payment scheme, which
meant that your employer would scan and store the fingerprints of
every staff member. It could then monitor your purchases and send
your partner or family member a breakdown of the nutritional value
of the snacks you ate at your desk. It’s fair to say that some
people might be a little bit peeved about this level of
surveillance. But this is exactly what is taking place in schools across the UK.

Surveillance technology has been creeping into schools under the
guise of keeping our little darlings safe. According to Big Brother Watch, there are now more than 100,000 CCTV cameras
installed in secondary schools alone, with a ratio of one camera
for every five pupils in some.

Manchester-born Emmeline
Taylor from the Australian National University
has been
researching the prevalence of surveillance technologies in UK
schools for a number of years. Her interest was initially piqued
when she was doing a PhD looking at the impact of CCTV on society.
During the course of her research, she discovered that schools are
in fact one of the main consumers of visual surveillance.

“I realised that schools are using so much more surveillance
than any other sector in society — more than even prisons and
airports,” she told Wired.co.uk. She’s concerned that CCTV has
undergone a “normalisation process” so people don’t really question
its presence in the school environment.

So “normalised” is CCTV that more than 200 schools are actually
using cameras in bathrooms and changing rooms, and some are
starting to install web-enabled cameras that parents and teachers
can access via a web or app interface.

In May this year, it was revealed that the Department for
Education was allowing some schools to trial
WatchBot cameras for free in order to monitor antisocial
behaviour — particularly those with drug issues. The system allows
for up to 64 motion-sensitive and night vision cameras to be
monitored simultaneously from smartphones, tablets and desktops.
WatchBot has loaned a handful of schools ten cameras each.

Taylor is concerned about this step change. It’s one thing just
having CCTV feeds being stored locally and viewed by a security
guard, but it’s quite another opening up live feeds to all and
sundry. “There’s no protection around these systems. What if the
people viewing the stream were recording it and uploading it to
Facebook? Lots of cameras have audio recording equipment and so
could be used to monitor the teachers as well as pupils.”

Watchbot appreciates that there may be “some privacy concerns”
around using these sorts of technologies, but says that the
surveillance carried out using its cameras has been explained to
parents and children. “What Watchbot is doing with these schools
has created debate on both sides, but parents acknowledge that
their children’s safety in schools is top priority,” says the
company’s Richard Hillgrove.

Although Watchbot’s system is currently being used — at least
in theory — to monitor drug dealing, Hillgrove suggests it could
also monitor for bullying within schools.

The UK’s data protection authority, the Information
Commissioner’s Office, is keen to make sure that any data schools
are collecting should be stored and disposed of in a responsible
manner. The ICO’s Simon Rice told Wired.co.uk that the use of CCTV
cameras has to be proportionate to the problems they are trying to
solve, and parents and children have to be fully informed about
their purpose. So you can’t just install cameras to prevent crime
and then start using them to monitor the performance of children in
the classroom.

Victoria Cetinkaya, ICO Senior Policy Officer for Public
Services, adds that “these systems can be very privacy intrusive –
not just for pupils but for staff as well” and that it’s important
for schools to do a privacy impact assessment before deciding
whether or not to install a new system.


Biometrics
BiometricsShutterstock


Beyond CCTV, biometric data is now being collected en masse in schools, with
more than 40 percent of secondary schools in England using
fingerprinting technology — often for cashless canteens, libraries
and registration — affecting an estimated 1.28 million pupils.
With canteen payment services, there are some tools — such as
MySchoolBucks — which analyse the nutritional value of the food
purchased by the pupils and then emails an update to parents.

All of this was taking place under the radar for many years,
with no record being kept by the Department for Education, nor was
their any way of knowing if parents had provided consent. As a
result, new legislation was introduced under the Protection of
Freedoms Act 2012 creating an explicit legal framework for the use
of biometric technologies in schools for the first time. Parents
and pupils are now given the legal guarantee that fingerprints
would not be taken without explicit consent and that alternative
systems would be made available if they did not want to use a
biometric system. 

Under the Data Protection Act, schools are required to store all
of the data securely, but as Emma Carr from Big Brother Watch says,
“Whether anyone is checking to ensure that is the case is another
matter. I would suggest a standardised way of doing this should be
encouraged by the Department for Education, e.g. should schools be
able to outsource this to a private company?”

Even with these protections in place, there are some concerning
trends on the horizon. A couple of schools — one in Cheshire and
one in Doncaster — have introduced
ultra-wideband RFID tags
into the learning environment so that
they can continually monitor the movements of pupils to within
centimetres. Nominally the technology was introduced to better
understand how people moved through the campuses and to improve the
efficiency of evacuation in an emergency, but one can imagine it
would also be useful for identifying those naughty kids smoking
behind the bikesheds as well.

Further down the line, it’s possible we’ll start to see attempts
to quantify how stimulating the classroom is. In 2012 the
Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation attracted some criticism
after it invested in a Galvanic Skin Response Bracelet. The idea was to trial these biosensing bracelets in US schools to physiologically
measure a child’s engagement with the learning material. “The idea
is to measure whether individuals are stimulated or bored and link
that back to teacher performance,” explains Taylor.

The introduction of the “quantified self” trend to the school
environment is concerning. “You can be very stimulated in a
classroom because you are looking at Facebook under the table,”
Taylor says.

She fears that schools are being taken advantage of by
technology companies. “We are seeing a huge deluge of different
tech infiltrating the classroom because it’s a multimillion pound
industry. But there are no studies to show it’s an effective
measure.”

“Let’s evaluate some of the marketing rhetoric around how
fantastic these technologies are: that they reduce truancy,
bullying and somehow safeguard young people. The marketing
discourse overshadows any of the critique.” At best, she says,
there is anecdotal evidence from teachers and parents, but this
“outweighs any rational debate”.

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Accepting these technologies uncritically is “dangerous” and may
damage the development of young people, who may feel they need to
constantly self-censor. “What impact is all of this having on
freedom of movement and freedom of expression if you know that you
are being continually monitored and even having your conversations
recorded? We need to give kids the space to just be young
people.”

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18 June 2014 | 2:49 pm – Source: wired.co.uk
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