Technology surveillance companies that market themselves to schools as ways for educators to ensure student safety are creating a “digital dystopia” that harms children’s trust and mental health, according to a new report from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
The $3.1 billion industry has marketed tools to track students’ online activities, facial recognition, cameras and more as ways to prevent bullying, self-harm and school shootings, but it has provided no evidence its technologies lead to these outcomes, the ACLU says.
The ACLU conducted research and reviewed other conclusions collected by the Department of Justice to find there is a “lack of clear evidence” that the products advertised by educational technology (EdTech) firms keep students safe like they say they do.
“The EdTech surveillance industry has massive marketing reach and power. Unchecked, these companies have created massive demand for their products based on unsubstantiated claims that surveillance deters harmful conduct and keeps students safe,” said Chad Marlow, ACLU senior policy counsel and principal author of the report. “But we know from the findings in this report that EdTech surveillance companies are using fear-based tactics to sell surveillance products that not only fail to keep our kids safe but actually increase discrimination, invade students’ privacy, and erode trust between students and educators.”
The ACLU also pointed out that eight out of the 10 deadliest school shootings in the past 20 years had cameras in the buildings, and that the Secret Service has said social media monitoring has played little role in preventing mass shootings.
In addition, a survey conducted by the ACLU shows a third of 14- to 18-year-olds say they “always feel like I’m being watched” with the surveillance tech. Fifteen percent felt “exposed” from the monitoring, 14 percent say it makes them anxious and 13 percent say they are paranoid from it.
Twenty-seven percent of the students say they are concerned about how the surveillance could be used to discipline them or their friends, and 22 percent are concerned with how schools could share the information with law enforcement, the ACLU notes.
The ACLU is recommending schools don’t let “fear drive your decision-making,” saying education officials should work with the community to evaluate the costs and benefits of surveillance tools before implementing them.
The group’s goal is to enact legislation that ensures schools can only buy surveillance tech that has verifiable proof it is more helpful than harmful to students.
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