In Rhode Island, Some Schools Think They Have the Right to Spy on Students With School Laptops

Students today have a lot to worry about: passing that pesky biology class, getting into college, and mastering the perfect Snapchat filter, to name just a few examples. However, there is one concerning matter that many of them are not aware they should be worried about: their school spying on them while using their school-loaned laptop.

Most Rhode Island school districts participate in “1-1” programs — in which third parties provide free laptop devices to students for the school year. While that should be a good thing, the details are a bit more complicated. We recently found out that most of the state’s participating schools give themselves the ability to remotely spy on their students through these loaned devices.

We published our findings early this month in a report titled “High School Non-Confidential: How School-Loaned Computers May Be Peering Into Your Home.” The report found that more than 60 percent of Rhode Island school districts today participate in the 1-1 program. It also discovered that a majority of those districts allow school officials or administrators to remotely access the device — while a student is at home, without their knowledge, and without any suspicion of misconduct. We know from an outrageous Pennsylvania case, in which school administrators were found to have activated webcams to spy on students in their homes, that this obvious privacy concern is not hypothetical. Yet only six districts specifically stated in their policies that they would not remotely access the webcams or microphones of devices distributed through the programs. 

Consider how creepy it is for any school official to be able to remotely and secretly peer over your shoulder while you’re in the safety of your home. And webcams aren’t the extent of the threat. Without proper policies, schools can also access the keystroke and browsing histories of students participating in the programs. George Orwell’s “1984” is standard required reading in schools. Administrators would do well to revisit it.

We also found that many schools equate the blanket access to computers that their policies allow to their right to inspect student lockers. This is a problematic analogy because lockers are actually in school at all times. School-loaned devices are designed for portability — and students are encouraged to use them at home. In addition to the obvious Fourth Amendment implications of such a search, there are First Amendment concerns as well. Unlike a locker, a search of a computer can reveal tons of documents, files, messages, social media activity, and other classic elements of “speech.” We’ve also seen that invasions of privacy chill free speech and free association — both critical to development and effective learning.

We’re not against school-loaned devices, but the policies that govern these programs need some work when it comes to civil liberties. In denying students their right to privacy, we are limiting their learning and teaching them that they are all suspects in the eyes of authority. Additionally, it shouldn’t be the case that wealthier students who can afford to use their own devices get to keep their privacy, while other students are forced to take the device and surrender their privacy — or keep their privacy, turn down the device, and hurt their education. No one’s privacy should be conditioned on their socioeconomic status.

There are ways to fix this. The ACLU has written a model bill that any state can adapt to protect its students. In Rhode Island, a bill that largely mirrors the model bill has been introduced in the state legislature. It would limit when an administrator or third party can remotely access devices to instances where there is reasonable belief that misconduct, as spelled out in school policies, took place, or if a warrant is present.

No child should have to trade away privacy in exchange for access to cutting-edge technology. Schools should be taking the lead in protecting their students

Add a comment (18)
Read the Terms of Use

Anonymous

"Our government has kept us in a perpetual state of fear -- kept us in a continuous stampede of patriotic fervor -- with the cry of grave national emergency. Always there has been some terrible evil at home or some monstrous foreign power that was going to gobble us up if we did not blindly rally behind it by furnishing the exorbitant funds demanded" - General Douglas MacArthur

Andrea Hill

While I am all for the schools offering laptops to students that cannot afford one, I think that it is not necessary for spying to be done while these students are in their own homes. I noticed in the post that it was mentioned this spying could have been being done even when there was really no misconduct. I want to know personally what are the reasons behind the spying that the school staff is doing. I also agree with the fact that the article noted that the students who can afford their own laptop are not subject to this spying treatment. How is that fair? I think that we are all aware that we are losing privacy as the world is moving more and more towards becoming completely digital. I know that I am guilty of being one of the people who skim through the terms and agreements to have quick access to something. I hope that these children are not being taken advantage of and that this topic is looked at more seriously and changed. I think there should only be certain times that privacy of the home is intruded and that would start with there being some sort of misconduct.

Dan

Totally agree with your comment!
One thing the kids can do, is to put tape on the camera lens and the microphone.

Anonymous

Just think about this fathers and mothers. You have school officials with capability to peer into your daughters bedroim

Anonymous

Just think about this fathers and mothers. You have school officials with capability to peer into your daughters bedrooms. How many nudes does the male school official have of your teenaged daughter? Hmm they probably pick and choose which bedrooms to peek into hoping that they catch a young girl getting dressed and undressed. Pigs. Another point is that these unknown nudes can now be sold and distributed among other pedos... Something to be considered

Anonymous

Absolutely outrageous! Equivalent to breaking and entering by cyber means.
This entitlement sounds to me like the justifications of an Anti-Social Personality Disorder or worse Psychopath.
This needs to stop now!
To even think of such a scheme a parent (s) or legal guardian would need to give written permission with stipulations.
Some of the voyeurs are doing this as a power and ego. Others may actually have far more sinister motives, masked, of course.
I can not believe the poor judgment and astounding arrogance to enter a private dwelling at will. Can they enter vehicles of students with one of these computers?

Richard Stallman

These computers allow much more spying than the article mentions, because they use operating systems (and applications) that are not under the users' control (it's not free/libre). Nonfree operating systems including Windows, MacOS and ChromeOS spy on the user for the company that made the system. They also have other malicious functionalities such as DRM, and Windows has a back door. See https://gnu.org/malware/.

The schools are likely to store data about the students in servers belonging to the same company (Microsoft, Apple, or Google). If a school gives even a student's NAME to such a company, for instance by making an account in the student's name, that violates the student's privacy.

See https://gnu.org/philosophy/free-software-even-more-important.html for why non-libre software is an injustice and we shouldn't stand for it in our lives.

Anonymous

Privacy underpins human dignity and other key values such as freedom of association and freedom of speech. Therefore, spying on other students violates a fundamental human right https://assignmentwritingservice.net/

Pages

Sign Up for Breaking News