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Report details privacy concerns of security upgrades in schools

The collection and use of K12 surveillance data is severely unregulated and a cause for concern. (GettyImages.com)
The collection and use of K12 surveillance data is severely unregulated and a cause for concern. (GettyImages.com)

With increased technological surveillance to protect and monitor students has come deep consequences for student privacy and equity, according to a new report from the National Association of State Boards of Education.

While school surveillance is on the rise—and overwhelmingly supported by parents—the collection and use of data is severely unregulated and a cause for concern, according to the report “School Surveillance: The Consequences for Equity and Privacy.”

“Parents want schools to make sure their kids are OK,” says Amelia Vance, report co-author. “However, it’s also very easy for surveillance to go overboard.”

The rapid spread of more advanced surveillance technology has allowed schools to gather more information than they need, but few privacy protections have been put in place to figure out what to do with the data once it is collected, Vance says.

By the 2013-14 school year, 75 percent of all K12 schools used security cameras. As of 2015, two-thirds of all school buses were equipped with cameras. Demands are growing for increased surveillance techniques, such as recording individual classrooms and requiring administrators to wear body cameras.

Inherent, implicit biases

While proponents argue that surveillance increases safety, use of the technologies has exposed the unfair punishments that are often doled out on minority students. As the report states, a move to surveillance technology has not led to greater equity, and in fact “students of color are disproportionately impacted by discipline actions.”

While the technology may be impartial, inherent and implicit biases of the people doing the monitoring may lead to unfair punishment for students of color, the report says.

Transparency rules

Vance stresses six principles to help protect students’ privacy. They include minimizing the use of surveillance technologies and giving students, parents and teachers access to data collected. For example, if schools are using monitoring software for 1-to-1 devices, districts can require companies to delete any data collected after a reasonable period.

One key to success is creating a data governance program that ensures transparency, says Vance, who is also education policy counsel for the Future of Privacy Forum. “If you create a data governance plan, you’re fulfilling a lot of what we recommend,” she says. “It’s a little harder around equity.”

Making implicit bias training a part of annual professional development and replacing zero-tolerance discipline policies with a restorative justice approach can help districts ensure better equity, Vance adds.

Data governance guides, already created by CoSN, the Privacy Technical Assistance Center at U.S. DOE and the Future of Privacy Forum, among others, can help districts protect student privacy.

NASBE’s principles to keep data private

Minimization—Protecting privacy relies on limiting data collection. Schools need to weigh the consequences, and use surveillance only when there is evidence of clear danger to student safety.

Proportionality—Policies must be put in place that address when surveillance should be used. This can help to build an environment of trust between students and administrators.

Transparency—To gain the trust of a school community, provide details of the practices and policies that govern the use of surveillance. And make efforts to teach students and parents about the technology being used and how students will be protected.

Openness—The decision to use surveillance and the policies that will govern its use must be open to public debate and scrutiny, including by students. Surveillance cannot take a one-size-fits-all approach. Schools and local governments must weigh local attitudes and needs.

Empowerment—Surveillance should serve the interests of all school parties, not just school authorities, and not be used just to punish. Students, parents and faculty need to have access to data, and students need to be allowed to review and challenge that information.

Equity—Adopting non-punitive and restorative justice techniques ensures students can explain the behavior issues and make meaningful positive steps. Administrators should also provide alternatives to suspensions and expulsion.