We are watching you: students unaware of online privacy
March 2, 2015
In a recent Knight Errant survey of 273 students, 45% responded to the question “Did you sign a technology policy at the beginning of the year?” with “don’t remember.” Even more shocking is the fact that of these same students, only 9% responded that they’d read the policy.
Contrary to popular belief, BSM isn’t an Orwellian state where Big Brother, or in this case, the Help Desk, is constantly monitoring online behavior in attempts to catch students breaking the rules. In fact, the main reason BSM is so involved in online surveillance is to ensure the safety of students. “If we are going to provide technology learning, we have an obligation to ensure safety. If by ensuring safety your privacy is compromised in an educational setting, so be it,” Mary Andersen, Senior High Assistant Principal said.
“If BSM wants federal grants to help pay for all this technology, we are required by law to have certain filters and requirements. Part of that is monitoring usage,” Steve Pohlen, BSM’s Director of Technology and Learning said.
Online privacy is not a privilege BSM students maintain. “Students have no privacy at school. That’s in the policy; we have the right to search the computers as they are technically our property,” Pohlen said.
That’s not to say that you’re constantly being monitored from start to finish of the school day, as BSM lacks the time, energy, and resources for that level of surveillance.
“Other than the hall monitors, we won’t go through your history unless it is warranted. If kids think we go on Lanschool seven days a week, they are mistaken,” Bill Cheney, Help Desk Staff Member said.
This doesn’t mean that BSM doesn’t have the potential to get involved, however. “If the Help Desk really wanted to, they could look through all of your keystrokes. Do they? No, unless there are problems,” Andersen said.
The ability to track your technological history certainly exists. “Keystroke history is recorded on your computer 24/7/365,” Cheney said.
While students are aware that they are being monitored, many are unaware of the scope. “I don’t know exactly the extent of the abilities that the technology department has at BSM, but I think that we have a reasonable amount of privacy,” senior Connor Day said.
Online privacy doesn’t even cross the minds of some students.“I don’t really think about my online privacy; I just don’t really care,” freshman Abby Letscher said.
At home, students’ privacy increases. “We don’t have control of the internet outside this building,” said Cheney, “we can block things only if parents ask us to get involved.”
“At home, there are ways for us to monitor things and cameras in the computer and stuff, but we don’t. In fact, everyone in the technology department signs an acceptable use policy; these are the rules that [those in the technology department] must abide by in order to work here,” Pohlen said.
This issue was recently launched into focus for Minnesota schools after a student at Wayzata High School refused to sign his school’s technology policy at the beginning of the year. The junior, who had experience in programming, objected to the terms and conditions appearing in the agreement.
Due to the decision students and their families make by coming to school here in the first place, it seems less likely that something like this would happen at BSM. “I would imagine if you didn’t sign the handbook you’re basically saying, ‘I don’t want to go school here,’” Pohlen said. However, the incident has resulted in increased scrutiny of technology policies throughout the state.
“There are schools out there trying to stop everything; we want the appropriate amount of freedom, and also some checks and balances,” Pohlen said.
BSM does its best to be reasonable in its surveillance. “We are more open than most schools in terms of websites that are allowed. As an example, there are many schools that block YouTube. But it is still our responsibility to watch if people are abusing that,” Pohlen said.