School Surveillance Escalates In Britain
By Graham Vanbergen – Until the revelations of Edward Snowden emerged just a few years back in 2013, British citizens had no idea as to the level of state surveillance they were subjected to. The government, without due process, debate or permission installed a massive taxpayer funded spying system via its domestic agency GCHQ, to tap into internet cables and build an enormous and detailed database of the communications of every man, woman and child in the country with little to no legal oversight.
GCHQ’s bulk collection program was conducted in brazen and arrogant defiance of Article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights. Parliament never approved the program as legal. Every phone call, no matter the device was recorded, every image, website visited, personal details such as medical and financial records, contacts, everything private to you is no longer private. Under one particular programme called “Optic Nerve” millions of images via webcams were illegally taken and stored. And untold millions were “compromising in nature” including that of naked young children and intimate images between consenting adults. The government were found to have acted illegally for 17 years.
The government, both Labour and Tory, never had the intention of informing the country of the sheer scale of state surveillance, and it will continue to utilise illegal programmes irrespective of the law because it is only care of whistleblowers that we find out in the first place.
Now we find, according to a report by civil liberties watchdog Big Brother Watch, that many secondary schools in England and Wales have installed ‘Classroom Management Software’ not just in devices owned by the schools but by the pupils themselves.
Approximately 72 percent of English and Welsh secondary schools have installed software that apparently allows teachers to continually monitor their students’ internet activity. Most schools have failed in any way to inform the youngsters parents that they are being watched. No permission is asked of pupils.
The tool allows classroom teachers to monitor the screens on every single desktop in the classroom, as well as access the students’ internet browsing history and alert staff of “signs of extremism and radicalisation.”
Big Brother Watch says the software is used to: Monitor the screens of an entire class from a single desktop; Monitor pupil internet activity in real time; Access a pupil’s internet history; Automatically capture screenshots from a device whilst in use; Monitor keyboard strokes and create alerts if pupils type inappropriate or flagged words; Alert staff to signs of bad or inappropriate behaviour or signs of extremism and radicalisation.
Campaigners were shocked to find that of the 149 schools (of over 1,000 schools) that were able to provide ‘Acceptable Use’ policies on their surveillance software, 82 percent did not give any detailed information on the monitoring process at all.
Big Brother Watch clearly believes although this type of surveillance software may have a role to play in keeping students safe, children and parents should be advised about the privacy settings of the program in the first place.
“Finding the balance between keeping pupils safe online without impinging on their right to privacy is a challenge for every school,”said the group’s chief executive Renate Samson. “But encouraging schools to track and monitor pupils creates a worrying precedent, particularly if pupils and parents are being left in the dark. As technology in the classroom becomes the norm, schools must ensure they don’t become modern day panopticons, where children grow up believing their every digital move is being watched.”
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Which of course it is.
Concern about the lack of clarity and definition in Government guidance were raised during the Government’s consultation process on the use of such technology. 87% of the schools and colleges said that they wanted guidance on what “appropriate” filters and monitoring systems look like” but clearly didn’t get it. This was also confirmed due to the fact that in most cases the schools involved are failing to adhere to basic data protection laws as well.
One could look at the technology as being a good thing, if indeed, it was also being used to stop cyber-bullying for instance, but that would only work if all the pupils were being made aware of surveillance systems in the first place.
Concern was expressed by the National Union of Teachers regarding the use of monitoring technology, with worries making the headlines that teachers will be required to act as a front-line spying apparatus for the government as in this headline from the Independent “Teachers forced to act as ‘front-line storm troopers’ to spy on pupils under guidelines aimed at combating terrorism”
Teachers regularly stress that there is little evidence that children are radicalised whilst at school. This has been emphasised by Christine Blower, the former National Union of Teachers General Secretary, who has said that “Evidence shows that grooming by extremist groups happens mainly on social media sites, not on school premises.” This view was mirrored by the head teacher at Bethnal Green Academy, the school where the three schoolgirls who flew to Syria to join ISIS were educated, who said at the time that “police have advised us that there is no evidence that radicalisation of the missing students took place at the academy.”
There is also a worrying trend in the analysis that Big Brother Watch undertook. Currently, the majority of schools using the software are installing it on school-owned devices only. However many schools are being encouraged to adopt a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) scheme. BYOD allows a pupil to use their own personal device at school for school work rather than use a
school device. Schools are also encouraging 1:1 schemes, where every pupil is assigned the same school owned device whilst they are at that school.
It was confirmed that already over 1400 pupils’ personal devices have been installed with Classroom Management Software. Big Brother Watch takes the view that this will be just the start of a growing trend. It is not clear if the surveillance software remains activated when pupils are off-site during evenings, weekends and school holidays.
In a broader issue over school surveillance, CCTV is now used in around 90 percent of all schools across Britain with 206 schools found to have even installed cameras in changing rooms and bathrooms. And if you were still not sure that surveillance in schools is over the top then it is a staggering fact that schools have installed more CCTV than cameras controlled by local authorities.
Is there really more violence and radicalisation going on at Britain’s secondary schools to warrant that? And where is this leading to?