Next month thousands of parents will unwittingly give the government the ability to snoop into their private lives.
It is why Manteca Unified School District’s Going Digital has more than a few parents on edge.
They have asked a question no one is answering: What guarantees are there that the district’s issuance of tablets to 23,000 students won’t compromise their family’s security?
This isn’t a paranoid question.
Ask parents in Ardmore in Pennsylvania.
Some 1,800 high school students were issued school laptops. The parents of Blake Robbins found out the Lower Merion School District was spying on them when their son was accused by a Harrington High administrator of “improper behavior in his home” and shown a photograph taken from his laptop of him in his bedroom on his bed. Parents had no idea until then that the district could remotely activate the webcam function of the laptop. Tablets also have camera functions.
Without telling students, school officials had snapped pictures of students in their own home in addition to capturing their chat logs and every website they visited. After the school district was sued it was shown they had secretly taken some 66,000 snapshots of students in their homes.
Another student — Jalil Hasan — discovered the school had intentionally conducted surveillance of him for two months with many of the shots in his bedroom. Altogether there were 1,000 plus images of Hasan on the district’s servers.
The ensuing lawsuits cost the school district $610,000.
George Orwell is looking more and more like a prophet in his book “Nineteen Eighty-Four.”
Of course, Manteca Unified would never use the technology for such purposes.
That’s what most Americans probably thought about Uncle Sam before it was revealed that the government was wholesale sweeping cell phone calls made by citizens without notifying them or having the benefit of due process for a search.
On second thought, Going Digital is indeed preparing students for the future where their every thought and movement is monitored even in the privacy of their bedroom.
Several parents have expressed concern that allowing school tablets issued to their children to use household WiFi will give the government a backdoor into their homes especially if their Internet service lacks a strong firewall.
What assurances is there that Manteca Unified will never abuse having school-issued tablets that can access household Internet routers? Better yet, can Manteca Unified have a stronger defense than Target and Sony against hackers using backdoors to download information?
Technology exists to do both. Manteca Unified has put is blind faith in Panasonic and Microsoft that this won’t happen while using coercion to get the parents of 23,000 students that they must have their children participate in Going Digital as a mandated education requirement. Also, what is to stop Microsoft and Panasonic from using their software and their devices to snoop on students or send them subtle advertising?
Another parental concern bouncing about is how safe personal data that the district has tied to tablets that are issued to students is and whether a hacker — or worse yet — a disgruntled parent of a foster child or a pervert can remotely access such information from tablet since students could access WiFi at Starbucks using a school tablet?
Paranoid? Parents figure that the tablets will have personal information about their children that could include addresses and where they go to school. It is information that right now is supposed to be secure from public distribution.
Manteca Unified deserves perhaps a “B” for innovation but they rate an “F” when it comes to having a real conversation with parents.
Sure there were informational meetings about how to use the tablets and what parents were on the hook for in case the tablet is broken or stolen. But there were no expansive forums for give and take where parents who should rightfully be concerned about the security of their child and their homes were allowed to answer questions and get answers.
Manteca Unified keeps giving a Stepford Educators response to questions saying tablets are the same as textbooks.
No they are not.
Your kid loses a textbook and it’ll cost you $75 at most. He loses a tablet and it is close to $400.
Your kid can’t access porn sites using a math book.
And a textbook doesn’t have the ability to spy on your kids.
This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA. He can be contacted at email@example.com or 209.249.3519.