A new “student safety initiative” in a California school district has been raising some questions about the issue of student surveillance, and about whether or not certain methods of monitoring students’ activities could be considered an invasion of privacy. The Glendale Unified School District has recently contracted with Geo Listening, an agency that specializes in monitoring students’ usages of social media websites in order to prevent them from engaging in illegal or dangerous activities. The district’s student body, which is comprised of roughly 13,000 young adults in both high school and middle school, is now subject to surveillance by the agency of virtually all public posts made on social media sites. Geo Listening, which collects and analyzes data about posted material and reports its findings directly to designated local education officials, uses sources from a wide variety of sites, including Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, and other social networking giants. In response to accusations that its methods constitute an invasion of privacy, Geo Listening has defended its position by insisting that it only monitors content that has been publicly posted by social media users, and that it never collects data from text messages, emails, or other private forms of communication. Its method of gathering data for school authorities is based on the “frequency and severity” of various student posts, which are divided into categories that include “bullying,” “despair,” “truancy,” “substance abuse,” “vandalism,” and “hate,” among many others. The agency’s mission, as touted by their website, is to, “Provide more timely and relevant information to school administrators so that they can better intervene in the lives of children.” And while the agency’s goals may sound benevolent, the use of expensive surveillance technologies to monitor and track students’ online activities is a rightful cause for concern when being utilized by a public school district.
I can say with hardly any doubt that the technologies being offered by Geo Listening do indeed have the potential to revolutionize the safety of modern educational environments. Such advances in data monitoring technology are bound to satisfy the market needs of some individual or other. Geo Listening’s surveillance innovations might even successfully manage to promote more harmonious future interactions between students by stunting opportunities for interpersonal drama to arise, and by reducing instances of bullying. It makes sense that some parents might seek out these kinds of services as part of their child’s schooling experience, especially if such technologies were offered by a unique private school that places an emphasis on utilizing cutting-edge innovations as part of its approach to providing a safer educational environment for students. There will always be a market for safety, especially whenever children are concerned.
While I personally would not choose to send my child to such an invasively-monitored learning establishment, other individuals with differing priorities might find safety features such as those offered by Geo Listening to be a must-have detail when selecting a suitable private school for their child to attend. Geo Listening would certainly find a demand for their innovations in a freer, more competitive market for private education—if they have already been successful in today’s financially-struggling, state-dominated public education system, then their success in a free market (which places greater emphasis on individual preferences) is practically guaranteed.
However, in the case of the public school district of Glendale, California, parents have received no say in the matter of whether or not the online activities of their children will be monitored. Nor have they been consulted as to whether or not the annual $40,500 fee for Geo Listening’s services is an expense that they are willing to have delegated from the school’s education budget. Instead, each of the district’s 13,000 students will be forcibly subjected to this internet surveillance technology, their parents will get to have little say in the matter, if any, and the taxpayers will be forced to foot the bill for it all, whether or not they even have any children in the first place. As a result of this publicly-funded system, the only available option for Glendale parents who are concerned about the privacy of their children is to boycott their local school district altogether and privately educate their young ones. And even if they decide to do so, they will remain forcibly obligated by the state to continue paying for the very same education services that they have never even used, having deemed public school systems unfit for their children. Parents and taxpayers alike have no option but to continue to fund such endeavors, lest they risk fines, jail-time, or even potential murder by agents of the state for attempting to refuse.
What’s worse is that there is a strong likelihood that this particular California community will not be alone in adopting such programs. The rise in school shootings and anti-bullying hype in the media will predictably feed into the falsely-perceived necessity for technologies such as those being offered by Geo Listening and other companies like it, and local bureaucrats will likely scramble to be next to assimilate such policies into their communities at the expense of the taxpayers and their civil liberties. More of the same can only be expected unless individuals everywhere eliminate the demand for public schools by refusing to allow their children to be educated by means that have been provided through the use of involuntary government force.
As long as individuals allow themselves to be further denied their rightful say about education and continue to support the existence of the public school system by subjecting their children to its methods, this trend is only likely to continue, and will only become more personally invasive. Hopefully it doesn’t come to that, and incidents such as the one in Glendale, California will serve as enough of a warning to people that they stand up for themselves and for their children, putting an end to the public school system by withdrawing their consent from it altogether. Until that happens, technologies and institutions that infringe upon freedom as a result of their mandatory nature will continue to evolve and become ever more commonplace in the daily lives of the members of modern society. When the day finally comes that people stop creating the demand for these wrongfully-enforced social establishments, their existences and impacts will cease to be prevalent once and for all, and both safety and education alike will become more tangible realities for parents everywhere. Think about it.