California School District Hires Contractor To Spy On Students Social Media Postings

big-brother-is-watching-you_thumbnailWe have previously discussed how students are being punished for out-of-school postings and statements on social media sites, a trend that I have criticized. Now, with the Supreme Court expanding the power of school officials to discipline students and teachers for outside activities, schools are creating their own surveillance and monitoring systems in our society. The Glendale Unified School District has hired a company called Geo Listening to monitor the conversations and postings of all of its students to detect any areas of concern. It is the latest example of how privacy in America is dying by a thousand papercuts.

Superintendent Richard Sheehan wants Geo Listening to look at all of the posts of 13,000 students at eight Glendale middle and high schools. He insists that this is to help intervene in any problems from drug use to suicides. However, it opens up yet another layer of surveillance in our fishbowl society.

Chris Frydrych, the CEO of Geo Listening said, “We have provided information to school districts, which has led to numerous successful interventions on behalf of students that intended self-harm, suicide, bullying, truancy, substance abuse, and vandalism.”

What really caught my eye in this story is the statement of one student Hoover High School student Elijah Augustine that neither he nor his mother is bothered by the monitoring. It is the ultimate example how people can become accustomed to surveillance and the loss of privacy. As our expectations of privacy fall, the government’s ability to engage in warrantless surveillance increases. We have trained a generation of students who are comfortable with continual surveillance and living in a monitored space.

33 thoughts on “California School District Hires Contractor To Spy On Students Social Media Postings”

  1. “The Glendale Unified School District has hired a company called Geo Listening to monitor the conversations and postings of all of its students to detect any areas of concern.”

    “Area of concern”? Translated, that means criticism of the schools or school district, or expose of unethical behaviour. You’ve got to nip those problems in the bud and never let the public know what’s going on in the schools. This isn’t a suicide watch, it’s a scaled down hunt for Edward Snowdon and Joe Darby.

  2. We cannot teach our students to read but we can spend millions on spying on them.. Now that’s an education!

  3. The Supreme Court was wrong. Thank dog it’s not one of those activist courts, whew, we dodged a bullet on that one….

    This is abominable.

  4. I’ve been telling colleagues and friends for a while now that public school teachers will be teaching while big brother watches from above. It’s already happening in some private schools and parents can ask administration to watch the video if they feel something has happened. I’m happy to be on my last leg and happy to be retired soon.

  5. Otteray Scribe – While your generic response was nice, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act specifically allows the release of information only to:

    – School officials with a legitimate educational interest;
    – Other schools to which a student is transferring;
    – Specified officials for audit or evaluation purposes;
    – Appropriate parties in connection with financial aid to a student;
    – Organizations conducting certain studies for or on behalf of the school;
    – Accrediting organizations;
    – To comply with a judicial order or lawfully issued subpoena;
    – Appropriate officials in cases of health and safety emergencies; and
    – State and local authorities, within a juvenile justice system, pursuant to specific State law

    It further says that schools may disclose, without consent, “directory” information such as a student’s name, address, telephone number, date and place of birth, honors and awards, and dates of attendance. However, schools must tell parents and eligible students about directory information and allow parents and eligible students a reasonable amount of time to request that the school not disclose directory information about them.

    Presumably the school district provided directory information to Geo Listening. GL would not appear to belong to one of the agents the school district is allowed to disseminate information to. It also appears that the school has not provided parents and students with the opportunity to opt out of their directory listing. I don’t see that the school is in compliance with FERPA.

  6. All the reasons cited for this invasion of privacy are certainly issues that need to be addressed, but not in this Draconian fashion. BTW, how much money is being diverted from the actual task of Education?

  7. Oxa,
    That would come under “agents and assigns.” It means that employees or outside contractors are bound by privacy laws. Same with HIPAA, when clinics and hospitals hand patient data over to outside firms, such as billing and collections.

  8. How can they monitor the school district’s students if they don’t know who the students are? And wouldn’t it be a violation of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act for the school district to give out that information?

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