Is Student Device Monitoring a Threat to Students?

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Should students be monitored online? 

New studies  are investigating monitoring software used by schools and the unintended consequences that come with it. One study initiated by the Center for Democracy & Technology revealed that 61% of parents and 57% of teachers believed monitoring students' devices "could bring long-term harm to students if it is used to discipline them or is shared and used out of context." Around half of participants also stated that online monitoring could result in unintended consequences, such as discrimination against students' part of the LGBTQ+ community. 49% of parents and 40% of teachers said that it was a violation of students' privacy rights to use monitor their online activity.

Why do people believe it’s wrong to monitor students online? 

For starters, student monitoring systems disproportionately affects students who cannot afford their own devices and who instead must use school property. Beyond this, monitoring student Internet usage can result in hindrances to their self-expression. (In fact, most students (60%) stated that they do not share their authentic thoughts and ideas online because they know that they are being monitored. 

Is monitoring students online ever a good thing? 

Despite the high statistics that demonstrate that many teachers and parents find online monitoring to be an invasion of privacy, many believe that there are benefits to using this technology. 62% of parents and 66% of teachers believe the benefits outweigh the privacy concerns. One report stated, "While a potential goal of student activity monitoring software is to prohibit access to obscene materials, these findings raise questions about whether tracking students may cause them to hesitate before accessing important resources (related to mental health, for instance)." 

Why do schools use monitoring software? 

In one report, Online and Observed: Student Privacy Implications of School Issued Devices and Student Activity Monitoring Software. Researchers discovered that one of the major driving factors for schools using this online monitoring software was to "satisfy perceived legal and funding requirements. Many district participants believed that the student activity monitoring software was required for compliance with the Children's Internet Protection Act (CIPA) and the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), as well as to access funding through the E-rate program.

What has been done to protect students’ online privacy? 

Several organizations have signed a letter urging Congress "to protect student privacy, expression, and safety by updating the Children's Internet Protection Act (CIPA or the Act) to clarify that CIPA does not require broad, invasive, and constant surveillance of students' lives online, or by asking the Federal Communication (FCC) to clarify the act." Some organizations involved in this cause include the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA), as well as civil rights organizations such as Hispanic Technology & Telecommunications Partnership, InnovateEDU, the Center for Learner Equity, Getting Smart, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the Center for Democracy & Technology.  

Where can I learn more about protecting students’ privacy? 

Both reports that were discussed in this article Student Activity Monitoring Software: Research Insights and Recommendations and Online and Observed: Student Privacy Implications of School-Issued Devices and Student Activity Monitoring Software are accessible online. You can also review the official letter to Congress.

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