Monday, February 8, 2010

Do Students/Children Deserve Any Privacy? "Smart" Tracking School IDs

Am I the only person who is disturbed by the the potential implications of wholesale tracking of childrens' activity through their Student ID? I have to ask, do children get privacy? Are children allowed to have their own thoughts and activities? When does a child get privacy? What age? How much privacy at what age?

"Student-identification cards have evolved relatively quickly from laminated badges with a student’s name and picture to all-purpose electronic cards that can now be used to check out library books, buy lunch, open lockers, and even track students’ comings and goings."

"For example, it will be possible in the future for students to use their ID cards to keep track of how many calories they burn at the school’s cardiovascular-fitness center, Cullinane says, and then match that information with the calories consumed at lunch.

“It gives you a much more holistic view of the student,” she says."

- Education Week - Student ID Cards Sport New Digital Features

When I read the information above, it makes me think of the kind of activity and thought control used in Orwell's 1984. Remember the line the kid next door says to Smith after the kid turns in his parents? "You're a thought criminal!!!" he accuses Smith (and technically Smith is a thought criminal...)

I suppose, if educators know everything a child does they can correct them... What a fine idea to promote healthy lifestyles and healthy choices... but, do we really want children who are being monitored and re-educated? There is a fine line between guidance and control - and too often I believe schools and teachers (and parents) cross that boundary.

A friend of mine who is in life skills coaching said "Good judgment comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgment..."


I also have concerns about whether schools will decide to sell the information gathered on things like vending machine purchases to market research firms, or to firms who directly market to children. Think I'm out of line in worrying about that? Schools and school boards are often desperate for money. Think about the iron clad locked down contracts some drink machine and vending contracts that exist with some school districts in Canada or the U.S. I will have to poke around for a citation, but I recall articles in the newspaper about some school districts where it was a punishable rule violation to bring soft drinks from competing companies on to school property - until parents and the media found out and the bad press forced a change to the contracts...


To return to the original privacy concerns:

If an employer was to routinely track your snack purchasing behaviour, or your gym time, would you be happy? If the human resources department was to call you in and have a discussion with you about whether you had been spending enough time in the company gym because the tracking software had snitched you out, would you be embarrassed? Would you find it humiliating? Would you become a little paranoid at work that you were being WATCHED ALL THE TIME? No matter how well meaning or gentle, if you had been called in at least once about the number of bags of Doritos (TM) that you had bought (because the vending machines dumped your ID card tied purchase records into their tracking database), would it start to stress you? If you knew you were being routinely monitored, would you be afraid you were going to get asked about your lifestyle choices? If you were not just being measured on your results, but whether your behaviours matched a certain set of criteria for positive life choices established by the ever so well meaning HR department (or guidance office), would it bug you? If your boss could just check out your lifestyle choices and activity records while casually trolling - would you get a little itchy? What if you had pissed off your boss by pointing out a safety deficiency and it made your boss's life a little uncomfortable? And they had access to your Dorito (TM) history and your lifestyle database?


Does anyone think that the line will not get pushed toward more and more tracking unless we have serious discussion about what we really need to know about our childrens' private lives? Does anyone think that grandstanding politicians and righteous activists will not force the line toward more and more intrusion and tracking in the name of healthy children? Does history give you confidence that decisions will be considered and rational? Or will they be based on who sounds the most holy (or holier than thou) or some kind of "Kids these days..." grumpiness when parents and teachers remember what they did as kids and try to prevent their children from doing the same things, or making the same stupid decisions?

Really, do children have to live in a lifestyle police state?

Do you think it would bug teenagers? Teenagers who are already biologically wired to be paranoid because of the changes in their brains during their teen years?

Do you think that teachers and guidance counselors who get lipped off by a teen or child are going to be fully beneficent when dealing with that child's lifestyle database? What if the teacher has a bad day and gets mad at a kid inappropriately - and the teacher gets into trouble for it? Will that teacher always be gentle and kind when they have information from the lifestyle tracking database that they can use to make the students' life a little more difficult? Does it work that way now? Do teachers ever inappropriately retaliate against their students?

What are the benefit offsets related to this kind of tracking? And do those benefits outweigh the cost in paranoia and potential abuse? Is the better choice education and persuasion, or monitoring?


How did East Germany do in the bad old day when 1 in 4 people was being watched by the Stasi? Did people feel safer? Did they grow up knowing that the helpful hand of the state was ready to "guide" them? Or did they become paranoid and learn how to hide and conceal?

"Unlike the prison camps of the Gestapo or the summary executions of the Soviet Union's KGB, the Stasi strove for subtlety. "They offered incentives, made it clear people should cooperate, recruited informal helpers to infiltrate the entire society," says Konrad Jarausch, a historian at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. "They beat people up less often, sure, but they psychologically trampled people. Which is worse depends on what you prefer."

That finesse helped the Stasi quell dissent, but it also fostered a pervasive and justified paranoia. And it generated an almost inconceivable amount of paper, enough to fill more than 100 miles of shelves. The agency indexed and cross-referenced 5.6 million names in its central card catalog alone. Hundreds of thousands of "unofficial employees" snitched on friends, coworkers, and their own spouses, sometimes because they'd been extorted and sometimes in exchange for money, promotions, or permission to travel abroad."

- Wired - Piecing Together the Dark Legacy of East Germany's Secret Police

Remember the words above:

"They beat people up less often, sure, but they psychologically trampled people. Which is worse depends on what you prefer."

" also fostered a pervasive and justified paranoia."

1 comment:

  1. I have to remark on how well you manage to put things in perspective.
    Actually, this is an issue I've been thinking Alot about too.
    All our day to day tasks are being tracked by some electronic means - where we go, what we buy and also through search engines, what we're thinking of right now. We really do not have as much privacy as we think we do and the government is penetrating deeper into our every day lives.
    The way I describe it is like we're living in this prison but we dont know I because the walls are computer screens - we sit and watch tv, our chat and socialize and all but all this is a distraction to kinda prevent us from realizing how "trapped" we are.

    Anyway, another very enjoyable post!