Wednesday, October 21, 2009

How Much Is Big Brother Watching The Class?

Did anyone else, wonders Clameur de Haro, catch a TV news snippet in the past couple of days about the extent to which the deployment of CCTV systems in schools is increasing dramatically?
The item featured the UK organisation Classwatch, which openly markets itself as “the answer to effective classroom management”.
What was shown was not just a passive function, i.e. creating a record to be available in the event of either a crime or serious misbehaviour occurring, but an active, virtually real-time, management of the tuition delivery, from a remote control centre. So that the remote controller was actually monitoring and correcting the teacher in her teaching technique, and directing what aspects of the subject material for that lesson she should be according greater or lesser emphasis.
Classwatch, moreover does not come cheap – a system for one single classroom costs about £50 per month on lease, and about £3000 to buy.
The whole item raised in CdeH’s mind some uncomfortable questions about invasion of privacy through excessive, pervasive surveillance, which all too often seems to be imposed on a unwilling, or even unaware population, whether students in school or shoppers in the precinct, either on spurious security grounds, or in an exaggerated response to a perceived threat. So perhaps Jersey’s Education Minister might be moved to answer the following -
To what extent, and in what areas, is CCTV used in Island schools? And if so -
Has its precise use been cleared by Data Protection? Have parents had all the intended uses explained to them, and been specifically to give consent to their children being under surveillance?
Is it used purely in a passive role, or actively to monitor and correct teacher and pupil behaviour / performance?
If so, for how long, and under what conditions of security, are the records retained?
Have the teaching unions been consulted and acquiesced in the remote monitoring of their performance?
And of course, what costs have been, and continue to be, incurred?
No-one, not least Clameur de Haro, would quarrel with the advisability of using CCTV to keep school perimeters secure. Too often, however, meeting a basic need like that provides a convenient cover for a grossly excessive and invasive extension of surveillance, to the ultimate detriment of all our freedoms.
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