People Watching Statues

Evidently, our overly-large school district will help with that.

Put this in the category of “I didn’t know this was happening”: in a recent newsletter, we learn that parents can sign up to get a weekly report on “their child’s activity on an FCPS device”, courtesy of the company the district pays for content censorship filtering.

But that’s not all. We also have the Internet Use Parent Portal, where parents “can log-in any time to see a little more detail about their child’s internet browsing”. This portal also offers the “added ability to “pause” access to the internet during non-school hours on the FCPS device”.

Now the part about logging every URL visited on district computers is not new. This was a major feature the company promoted when they were awarded the content censorship filtering contract back before I left the system. At the time, our little steering committee1 was told data would only be used when needed to investigate “incidents” of some kind or another.

I guess the purpose of the system has expanded somewhat from the original idea of just blocking the actual “bad stuff”..

So I just have a few questions…

Do the students know this is happening? Certainly the kids whose parents have signed up for the portal probably do. But are the rest of them, and the adults for that matter, aware that everything they do on the network is being sucked into a vendor’s database?

Who decides when a site the student visits is “inappropriate”? While almost all of the really bad stuff is just flat out blocked automatically, what if, for example, an observer decides to interpret a student’s interest in Black Lives Matter as “bad”? This is a center-left area but can you imagine what some of the folks in hard-right country might do with this information.

Anyway, that’s just the start. Other big questions surveillance systems like this should generate include where is this going? How far down the rabbit hole do schools and parents plan to travel? And just how secure is this database?

The answers should be clear before this kind of surveillance is inflicted on kids. Or anyone else.

The photo is from a recent visit to the National Gallery of Art. Do you think it should be tossed into the “nudity” category of the filtering system and thus blocked by FCPS? Last time I checked, this site was already censored, at least in the elementary schools. But I think that was true of all the evil things called “blogs”. :)

1. “Steering” is probably the wrong term. A few times each year, some of us from the instructional side of the district met with the people in IT who managed the system to talk about what should and shouldn’t be blocked on the network. I don’t remember winning many of those “discussions”.