Blurred: School tracking crosses the line between privacy and safety

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Preksha Kedilaya

Sophomore Mallory Hawkins uses a tracking app called “Find my iPhone”.

By Preksha Kedilaya, Pleasant Valley High School - IA

National news regarding Inpixon, an indoor data tracking company, is raising a concern of privacy among students and parents. In at least 10 schools, Inpixon has installed radio frequency scanners that pull data from cell phones for tracking purposes. However, the motive behind the tracking is weary.

The company has gained interest from schools by marketing the scanners as a safety measure against school shooters and “blacklisters”. But the scanners allow schools to keep every device tracked and monitored on a constant basis. With many parents and students fearful, this brings up a question of privacy.

Inpixon’s main selling point may not be as sturdy as it seems. Driven by fear of school shootings, the company’s claims regarding such lack evidence. With a vast majority of school shootings carried out by average and unsuspected people, added surveillance can not guarantee an improvement.

But Inpixon drives its marketing around the idea of a “safer” school.

PV Counselor Ellie Thomas is hesitant of the new technology. “I understand that something being done may make students feel safe, but at this level it becomes a privacy issue.” The blurred line between privacy and safety is to be explored and challenged by students.

In terms of privacy among students at school, PV Principal Daren Erickson believes student free speech rights do not stop at the door. Erikson was given a scenario in which there was a report of inappropriate content for a student. “First I would need to verify it since you are asking me to make a big nexus to go into the realm of search and seizure.” Erickson continues, “If I couldn’t verify it but I’m concerned for the safety of the school and students I would confiscate the phone but not search it.”

And searching a student’s phone can feel like more than just an invasion of privacy. “There is a level of privacy that comes with a personal device. You need to be able to keep some things private,” said Thomas. However, this scanning technology works against that.

In addition to privacy, dramatically increasing safety measures can instill unnecessary fear among students and cause adverse effects. “Knowing those devices are in the school can increase the stress level, making them believe they must be tracked in case a catastrophe happens. Living in a constant state of stress like that is not healthy for a student and may have drawbacks,” said Thomas.

Senior Eesha Lawande believes strongly against the tracking, “I would feel uncomfortable if the school was constantly monitoring me because that is crossing a big line with our privacy and it is not okay.” Not only can monitoring students affect their mental health, the thought of it already has students worrisome of the future.

With as severe of an issue as school gun violence, companies like Inpixon are taking advantage of the fear among schools. By making blanket statements with little evidence to back them up, schools must be wary of the line between privacy and safety to avoid harming the overall health of their students.

This story was originally published on Spartan Shield on March 2, 2020.