Schools responsible for education, not surveillance

Credit: Jessica Thurston/Contributing Editor Credit: Jessica Thurston/Contributing Editor

Last month, Blake Robbins, a high-school sophomore in the Lower Merion School District near Philadelphia, accused an administrator of using a webcam on a school-provided laptop to spy on him in his home. Such an act, if true, would violate the trust of the school’s community, not to mention laws concerning legal methods of surveillance.

We condemn this gross abuse of power and betrayal of trust, one which shows a school administration losing sight of its goal of teaching students and instead focusing on policing them.

Educators have a responsibility to teach, and that includes holding students responsible for their academic actions. But this responsibility does not justify or excuse an invasion of privacy. In an age of increasing surveillance, the home remains a sanctuary.

Not even national security agencies can spy in a home without a warrant. That school officials are allegedly abusing these powers makes the accusations in the Lower Merion case profoundly disturbing. With its irresponsible conduct, the school district has betrayed the trust placed in it by its students and its community.
Even if Blake Robbins invented his accusations and the defendants are innocent, the case still speaks to an underlying concern of our society. Schools across the country are providing computers with webcams and remote desktop software to their students and faculty. It is likely that this technology is being abused right now — and even if it is not, the fear it instills in students is harmful enough.

With the opportunity for unsupervised surveillance readily available, we must decide as a society where our priorities lie. The response to this webcam scandal shows that Americans still care about their privacy, and The Tartan agrees. Privacy is a fundamental right and should not be invaded, least of all by those we trust to teach future generations.