Paving Stones of Good Intentions

October 9, 2011

Even Orwell didn’t foresee this, not specifically. From Kindergarten through college, students are now subjected to more forms of monitoring than I could have conceived of when I was a little rabble rouser. From cameras to RFID badges, it’s an entirely different world.

Now Michael Morris, is a lieutenant with the University Police at California State University-Channel Islands, is calling on universities to take surveillance to a whole new level. NetworkWorld reports on this in “Privacy Nightmare: Data Mine & Analyze all College Students’ Online Activities.” That’s right, the good lieutenant recommends recording every little thing college students do online and analyzing the data to predict and prevent “large-scale acts of violence on campus.” What’s more, it would be easy enough to do with today’s data management tools. Wrote Morris,

 Many campuses across the country . . . provide each student with an e-mail address, personal access to the university’s network, free use of campus computers, and wired and wireless Internet access for their Web-connected devices. Students use these campus resources for conducting research, communicating with others, and for other personal activities on the Internet, including social networking. University officials could potentially mine data from their students and analyze them, since the data are already under their control. The analysis could then be screened to predict behavior to identify when a student’s online activities tend to indicate a threat to the campus.

Take a moment to reflect on the side effects of such a large-scale invasion of privacy. What other behavior, unrelated to potential violence, will be “predicted?” And how will those predictions be acted upon? The possibilities are endless.

Look, I get it. I once attended Virginia Tech, after all, and now I have a child in college myself. Not much scares me more than visions of some nut-job with guns descending on that campus. But I also realize that throughout history, fear has been the key to gaining citizen acceptance of the unacceptable. And now we have technology that allows the unacceptable to reach heights like never before.

Cynthia Murrell   October 9, 2011

Comments

One Response to “Paving Stones of Good Intentions”

  1. Dan Nicollet on October 10th, 2011 7:45 pm

    Max surely wouldn’t agree here Steve, or would he?
    This is absolutely unavoidable unless the masses rise to say no unfortunately. The temptation is too grand for the Universities or other authorities. The technology is there and will be used. Common law will hopefully eventually rule over how this type of data should be gathered and interpreted. What the scariest here is how such data can be taken out of context to say just about anything about anyone.
    Just like xtxtx.com does ;-)
    Dan