Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Surveillance in Schools

Should schools be preparing pupils passively for the surveillance society by introducing biometric systems into schools or should they be taking the opportunity to draw pupils into a critical debate about it?

Keeping Track of Caitlin: Schools and Surveillance - a scenario for 2017

It is not inconceivable that in the near future a secondary school pupil somewhere in the UK – let’s call her Caitlin, aged 16 - might register their arrival at school by passing a radio frequency identification (RFID) chipped card across a scanner at the entrance to the main building, having already been filmed by CCTV cameras coming through the school gate. An autotext is sent to her mother’s mobile phone, letting her know Caitlin has arrived. Internal CCTV
cameras follow her down the main corridor - images are recorded digitally for security purposes; no one is actually watching in ‘real-time’. She arrives at her first class, where she hands in written work on a CD, to be scanned by plagiarism software.

Later in the morning she takes two books out of the library, using a fingerprint scanner installed several years before the RFID registration system was introduced (otherwise the same card could be used in the library). Unknown to her, or to any pupil, the senior school administrator takes five minutes to do an ‘online headcount’ just before lunch - the position of every chipped identity card on site (and the person assumed to be carrying it) is graphically displayed on a screen in his office, colour-coded to show if any pupil is not in the classroom they are supposed to be in at that time of the day. All seems well, but the movement sensors installed in the school lavatories - so much less intrusive than webcams - indicate that two pupils have remained there for longer than might be considered necessary.

At 1pm Caitlin does use her RFID card on the canteen scanner to debit her lunch account. In the afternoon she travels to a further education college, entering the premises using a fingerprint registration system because the college has not yet upgraded to an RFID system, despite being twinned with her school. She logs on to her college computer using the same fingerprint scanning
system, grateful that she does not have to remember a password, as (she has been told) pupils did in the old days. Between classes she is invited to join a cluster of pupils as they walk through a police-manned ‘search arch’, recently installed in the college to deter knife-carrying after a ‘serious incident’ outside the college gates. At the end of the school day she leaves the building, deregistering
her presence there using the fingerprint scanner.

At home, fifteen minutes later, Caitlin’s mother goes online to check her daughter’s whereabouts by locating her GPS-enabled mobile phone, using the latest ‘kidtracka’ software. She assures herself that her daughter is on the way home, glad that she does not have to raise her daughter’s anxiety by actually phoning her. She wishes that the college had an autotext system which notified
her phone when Caitlin ‘clocked-out’, just as the school’s registration system did when she ‘clocked-in’ in the morning. She still worried that Caitlin would lose her RFID card, and preferred the scanning system at her younger son’s primary school, where the RFID chip was sensibly sewn into the lapel of his blazer, unlosable.
She remembers that she has a letter from the school, inviting her to a PTA meeting to discuss the implications of their latest privacy impact assessment, but she knows she will be too busy to go. She is confident that
there will be no problems with it, and that the minority of parents who always seem to criticise the safeguarding systems will not get their way. She is happy that in an uncertain world her children are so well looked after by their schools.

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