This report comes from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which found that over the last two decades, a segment of the educational technology sector that markets student surveillance products for schools has grown into a $3.1 billion-a-year industry with a projected eight percent annual growth rate. (Related: Dallas school district installs AI spying, surveillance systems to keep an eye on students.)
"The [educational technology] surveillance industry accomplished that feat by playing on school districts' fears of school shootings, student self-harm and suicides and bullying – marketing them as common, ever-present threats," wrote the ACLU in its report.
The ACLU also did a survey on students between the ages of 14 to 18. A full 87 percent of them said they were aware that their schools were using surveillance technologies. Of these, 62 percent said their schools were using video cameras, 49 percent said their schools had installed monitoring software on school-issued devices and 27 percent said their schools were monitoring their social media activity.
Perhaps more worrying is the fact that this constant surveillance is causing a number of harm to students in terms of their learning as well as making them less likely to report potentially dangerous behavior.
Some 32 percent of students surveyed by the ACLU said their schools' security measures lead them to "always feel like I'm being watched," while another 24 percent said school surveillance made them feel like their access to online learning resources was being limited.
"Research demonstrates the damaging effect of surveillance on children's ability to develop in healthy ways," said law professor Barbara Fedders. "Pervasive surveillance can create a climate in which adults are seen as overestimating and overreacting to risk. Children, in turn, cannot develop the ability to evaluate and manage risk themselves in order to function effectively."
The ACLU survey noted that students in schools with active surveillance systems reported heightened levels of anxiety, unease and even fear of their schools. Students also reported a degraded level of trust towards their school administrators and their teachers.
Amelia Vance, president of the pro-privacy rights NGO the Public Interest Privacy Center, warned that this lower level of trust in school authorities will "make it less likely that students are going to reach out for help."
Vance described this constant monitoring as having a "chilling effect" on students and making it less likely that they will speak to people in authority during situations when doing so could help save lives.
An analysis of at least 67 plots against schools conducted by the U.S. Secret Service itself showed that a majority of these plots were flagged when the plotters' peers in school reported their potentially dangerous or self-harm behavior and plots against staff to school employees.
Outside of the ACLU's report, other research has shown that camera surveillance might not be preventing instances of violence within schools. In the last two decades, eight out of the 10 most deadly school shootings took place in schools with active surveillance systems.
"I think the problem is much of what we're doing when it comes to student surveillance technology only makes us feel safer," noted ACLU Senior Policy Counsel Chad Marlow, the lead author of the report. "But it doesn't actually make the kids any safer … and it's hurting our kids in the process."
Learn more instances of harmful surveillance in the United States at Surveillance.news.
Watch this episode of "News Behind The News" on AMP News discussing how parents need to be watching schools, not schools watching students.