It Won’t Just Go Away

Screen Shot 2020 06 06 at 7 24 07 PM

Come September, the COVID-19 virus is likely to still be a public health problem, which, as I discussed in an earlier post, will make opening school for the new year a challenge.

According to Wired, at least one K12 district in Ohio believes they can address some virus-related issues using surveillance technology to continually track of where students are and who they come in contact with during the day.

The school district, with five schools and 4,800 students, plans to test a system that would require each student to wear an electronic beacon to track their location to within a few feet throughout the day. It will record where students sit in each classroom, show who they meet and talk to, and reveal how they gather in groups. The hope is such technology could prevent or minimize an outbreak of Covid-19, the deadly respiratory disease at the center of a global pandemic.

But this particular district is hardly the only one interested in this kind of tracking system.

A small but growing surveillance industry has sprung up around Covid already, with firms pitching everything from temperature-tracking infrared cameras and contact tracing apps to wireless beacons and smart cameras to help enforce social distancing at work. “It’s been one of the most disturbing parts of this,” says Albert Fox Cahn, founder of the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project.

Now, Cahn says, this cottage industry is keen to find a way into classrooms. “One of the things that will be a huge profit driver, potentially, is that younger children would need specially designed devices if they don’t have smartphones,” he says.

Companies seeing a “huge profit driver” in surveillance tech. Administrators like those in the Ohio district are “very much interested in the automated tracking of students”.

It’s a bad combination.

Because, once the pandemic has passed, it’s very likely both sides will want to leave these highly-profitable tracking systems in place.

I used to joke that we should solve the problem of taking attendance by just embedding an RFID chip in the kids’ heads. It’s not a joke anymore. It’s a business.

The picture is a screen capture from the first season trailer of the TV show “Person of Interest” where a surveillance system was one of the main characters. Check it out on Netflix before the show goes from science fiction to documentary.

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