Software has ability to monitor, censor web activity even in students’ homes

Source: Steve Watson

Students in Portland, Maine are to be issued laptops that will track their activity and actively block certain websites including social media sites.

Internet filtering software will be downloaded automatically onto the computers when students boot them up at school, reports the Kennebec Journal. However, the restraints will stay in place even when the students are working from home or other non-school premises, including outside of normal school hours.

Sites such as Facebook, Hulu, and YouTube, as well as forums, news groups, games, dating sites, gambling sites, and chat rooms will all be blocked.

According to Peter Eglinton, chief operating officer for the district, the changes are a legal requirement. However, this is not the case, as noted by Doug Levin, executive director of the State Educational Technology Directors Association, based in Maryland:

“While federal law requires school districts to take measures like creating an Internet safety policy and blocking sexually explicit content, there is no requirement that social media sites be blocked,” Levin said.

Furthermore, the U.S. Department of Education recently issued guidelines explaining that it is acceptable to allow social networking sites and video streaming, said Deborah Caldwell-Stone, deputy director of the American Library Association’s Office of Intellectual Freedom.

The article also notes that no other school district in the country has blocked access to social media sites from school computers that are used at home.

The privacy concerns raised by the move will also draw comparisons with a previous incident reported in 2010 when a school district in Philadelphia was reportedly discovered to have used school issued laptops to actively spy on students in their homes.

School district officials in Lower Merion were accused of remotely accessing laptops and taking thousands of images via the in built cameras, including photographs of students in their homes, screen shots of web sites they visited, and excerpts of their online chats.

It seems other schools across the country have been actively using the same or similar technology to monitor students for some time.

The following clip is from PBS FRONTLINE: Digital Nation: Life on the Virtual Frontier, broadcast in early 2010. The clip is from segment 4 of the show titled Teaching with Technology.

The Assistant Principal of the featured high school demonstrates how he effectively spies on students by remotely accessing cameras in their laptops. He monitors their activity and even takes pictures of them, much to his own amusement: