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To what degree do students deserve to have their privacy violated? A school district in the greater Los Angeles has begun to pay Geo Listening, a social networking monitoring service, over $40,000 to invade nearly the privacy of 13,000 students’, aged 13 and over (the age in which parental permission is unwarranted for monitoring), by following postings on their social media accounts. Superintendent Richard Sheehan is adamant in saying this service is “just another avenue to open up a dialogue with parents about safety.”

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Image courtesy of Flickr user English106

The Glendale school district initially hired the firm back in the spring of 2013 to observe a subset of district’s schools. This preliminary run proved successful as the results uncovered one student’s suicidal thoughts being conveyed through social media. By reviewing content posted by students, a life was saved. This is significant in more than one-way, a major one being that in the past two years, multiple students form the Glendale district have taken their lives. However, it is important to note that this increase in suicide rates occurred after mental health services were significantly reduced in the California school system. Does this not seem like the bigger issue? A more practical solution in preventing self-inflicted harm would be to reinstate mental health services, not stalking students in the viral world. Such assistance is vital as it provides students with a safe outlet in which they can convey their emotions; consequently it is shocking that such an important service would be nearly eliminated.

Besides monitoring students’ safety, Geo Listening lists supervising drug use, cell phone use during school hours, and skipping class as major priorities. It seems that the firm is really just playing big brother and reporting material that goes against school conduct codes to the Glendale administration in an unethical manner. “When the government — and public schools are part of the government — engages in any kind of line-crossing and to actually go and gather information about people away from school, that crosses a line,” said Lee Tien, senior staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which specializes in defending privacy and free speech. School officials have defended the hiring of the outside firm by claiming they only review content that is public, to which Tien responded with “People say that’s not private: It’s public on Facebook. I say that’s just semantics. The question is what is the school doing? It’s not stumbling into students — like a teacher running across a student on the street. This is the school sending someone to watch them.” It seems that Sheehan and the rest of the Glendale school district true intention behind this system is to monitor what students are doing outside of school. Which begs the question to what extent should school officials be able to control their students’ lives?

Feature Image courtesy of Flickr user Brian Gurrola

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