Privacy Nightmare: Data Mine & Analyze all College Students' Online Activities

1984 surveillance tactics continue in schools by suggestions of sharing collected student data with fusion centers. There is another particularly invasive security idea being pitched to universities as a "crystal ball" to stop future violence — to data mine and analyze all college students' online activities.

It is not uncommon for schools to be equipped with metal detectors, cameras for video surveillance, motion detectors, RFID badge tracking, computer programs to check school visitors against sex offender lists, and infrared systems to track body heat after school hours and potentially hunt down intruders. No parent ever wants any possibility of a school tragedy, so other biometric systems in the name of security have been introduced. Iris recognition and fingerprint scans are being used to monitor students' Internet usage. Now there is a particularly invasive idea being pitched to universities as a "crystal ball" to stop future violence by data mining and analyzing all college students' online activities.

In K - 12 schools, "new military and corrections technologies are quietly moving into the classroom with little oversight." It's making our schools a "fertile ground for prison tech," Mother Jones reported. "For millions of children, being scanned and monitored has become as much a part of their daily education as learning to read and write." All of this surveillance is supposed to keep students safe, but there are some states that would like to dump public school surveillance data into federally-funded fusion centers.

In fact, KC Education Enterprise reported that the "Kansas Fusion center wants to gather intelligence in public schools." At a Kansas Safe and Prepared School conference, Jeremy Jackson, who is associated with the Kansas Intelligence Fusion Center (KIFC), spoke on how schools could participate in and benefit from KIFC's "intelligence analysis and information sharing capabilities."

AxXiom for Liberty took it one step further by posting Oklahoma Fusion Center slides [PDF] like the one above that listed schools as "nontraditional collectors of intelligence." The Oklahoma Information Fusion Center website called for entities from "primary and secondary schools, post-secondary schools, colleges and universities, and technical schools" to "provide information related to suspicious activities occurring on and around school grounds and campuses." But there are plenty of potential privacy problems like mission creep in regard to fusion centers.

Well now there is a call for college campuses to increase school surveillance and use their "crystal ball" to detect future violence by mining all student data. In The Chronicle of Higher Education, Michael Morris, a lieutenant with the University Police, proposed that colleges should collect and data mine their students' online activities as a potential way to predict and thereby prevent "large-scale acts of violence on campus." Morris argued that mining student data could save lives. He argued that we are under surveillance now, so what's a little more electronic spying? Morris stated that campus behavioral surveillance could offer universities a "crystal ball" to prevent future tragedies.

Many campuses across the country and most in California provide each student with an e-mail address, personal access to the university's network, free use of campus computers, and wired and wireless Internet access for their Web-connected devices. Students use these campus resources for conducting research, communicating with others, and for other personal activities on the Internet, including social networking. University officials could potentially mine data from their students and analyze them, since the data are already under their control. The analysis could then be screened to predict behavior to identify when a student's online activities tend to indicate a threat to the campus.

"It's for the children," sarcastically commented one of my favorite privacy voices of dissent. Dissent on PogoWasRight wrote, "Just because companies and others already data mine publicly available information or services like Gmail include targeted advertising based on email contents, that makes it okay for colleges - academia - the sanctuary of intellectual and private thought - to data mine? This may be one of the worst ideas I've read all month."

I agree. In fact one of the only electronic spying stories that I have enjoyed involved an ironic twist of fate that ended the career of the School of Shock founder, a man who happily took advantage of his 24-hour surveillance cameras to catch bad behavior of kids with disabilities and then punish those students with electric shocks. Based upon "evidence" which ended up being nothing more than a prank call, two teenage students were dragged out of bed in the middle of the night and punished. "One of the students was given 77 skin-shock treatments over three hours while protesting and being restrained; another was given two dozen shocks." The director destroyed the digital surveillance instead of letting proof of the electronic spying and "shock therapy" hit the Internet.

That misused surveillance was also meant to catch "bad behavior," much like the proposed idea to data mine college students. While Morris said it would be important in the data mining to make distinctions "between violations of the law and violations of campus policy," it's not hard to imagine the surveillance being misused and abused.

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