Home > Uncategorized > Those Cameras in School— Who Are They Watching? What Are They Recording?

Those Cameras in School— Who Are They Watching? What Are They Recording?

April 30, 2015

In my last assignment as Superintendent of Schools, I received a phone call from the High School Principal who was seeking permission to call the school district’s attorney to address a question: could she and the Dean of Students look at the messages on a cell phone a student suspected of selling drugs had willingly surrendered to them? And… in a related question, could they give the cell phone to the police who were conducting an investigation?

When I received this call, cell phones were just becoming ubiquitous and this was unsettled law. After some deliberation,  as I recall our attorney advised against it. I’m still not certain there is a clear ruling on whether a school administrator can review phone messages from a cell phone, but in today’s schools where surveillance cameras abound and students use of social media without regard for the consequences of over-sharing, looking at cell phone messages may not be necessary.

This all came to mind as I read this chilling article from The Guardian titled “Is the On-Line Surveillance of Black Teenagers the New Stop and Frisk“, an article I got to through the Mathbabe blog. The article describes how police monitored social media exchanges among young black males who were suspected of being gang members in NYC. One might accept this premise if police went through the procedures required to do phone surveillance and targeted their monitoring to those who might be the most influential leaders…. but when it affected 28,000 young black males aged 10 and up and involved subterfuge, it is chilling:

The (young black men) are surveilled offline, but also on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and other social media channels. When accounts are set to “private”, police officers sometimes gain access to them by sending friend requests posing as young women or club promoters. 

The article details the extent to which the movements of every young black male are monitored and concludes with an interview with Mike Loudwy, a South Harlem resident, who discusses how police have adapted to the directive to limit the use of “stop and frisk”:

While ordering some food, Loudwy confides the best way to deal with police randomly stopping you is to stay silent and know your rights. “If you start talking, they’ll find a way to throw you in. Any wrong move could be my life,” he says. “You don’t even have to let them search you. They need a probable cause…”

Is he on Facebook? “Hell no. I call Facebook ‘fed-book’. I don’t do Facebook. They’re watching us on there.”

To some, his words may come across a little paranoid; the result of growing up with cameras on the street corner, police watchtowers a few blocks away; too many years being ordered to the ground by an overzealous police force…

And yet, Loudwy’s fears hold up. What is perhaps most alarming is that he and his friends are so used to being treated like suspects that to find out that they are being watched online comes as no surprise. Even without actual proof, it’s something they have just assumed – quite rightly – has been happening all along.

Here’s a question that over-protective parents, teachers, and administrators need to wrestle with in this era of surveillance cameras and the capability of monitoring social media: are we creating a generation that assumes they are being watched 24/7… and if so, is that the world we want to create in the future?

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