A Closer Look: Network Monitoring

A Closer Look: Network Monitoring

A Closer Look: Assessing the Privacy Costs of School Safety Proposals

In an effort to prevent school violence, a number of communities and educators are exploring new policies and technologies that are intended to help identify and flag potential threats. However, each of these efforts has serious and lasting implications on student privacy and data security. To help raise awareness of the challenges and opportunities presented by these school safety policies, the Future of Privacy Forum (FPF) has developed a weekly brief that will offer a closer look at a few of the most prevalent technologies along with useful resources and articles to further inform readers.

Issue Brief: Network Monitoring

The Children’s Internet Protection Act requires schools to monitor students’ online activities, but offers no procedural guidance. This ambiguity, along with the proliferation of emerging digital technologies, new state and federal school safety legislation, and mounting pressure to detect and prevent crises, has led schools to expand the breadth and depth of students’ online activities they track. While monitoring has clear and proven benefits such as keeping students on task, avoiding security risks, and tracking cyberbullying, there is no evidence that it works to detect threats, despite an increasing number of schools that are relating on it to do so.

Education Week describes network monitoring as “the new reality for America’s schools, which are hastily erecting a massive digital surveillance infrastructure, often with little regard for either its effectiveness or its impact on civil liberties.” Many schools are contracting with third-party technology companies to track, report and review all activities conducted while a student is connected to the school’s WiFi network, on a school-issued device, or using a school-provided account such as the Google or Microsoft education platforms.

Without question, over-monitoring can pose serious legal, practical and cultural risks. Network monitoring can generate thousands of false leads and minor violations not worthy of follow up, wasting the time and energy of busy school administrators. It can also exacerbate certain inequities in schools; student of lower socioeconomic status may only have computer access through school-administered devices, so schools will inherently monitor more of their activity. Other students may be denied access to necessary information, harming their educational experience. For example, students preparing for the AP Biology Exam or debate team members researching controversial topics may be blocked from doing so on school computers.
To conduct network monitoring in ways that best serve students’ educational interests, schools, vendors and policymakers must realize that school safety also includes protecting students’ privacy. All students have the right to fair, equal treatment and privacy protections just as much as they have the right to physical safety. By prioritizing education, transparency and privacy – and working with a vendor who does the same – schools can develop effective network monitoring policies that both uphold their responsibilities under CIPA and respect student privacy.

What They’re Saying: News and Research

FPF Resources

Related Resources

  • FPF Perspectives

    Future of Privacy Forum Releases Student Monitoring Explainer

    Oct 27, 2021FPF Staff

    Today, we released a new infographic, “Understanding Student Monitoring,” depicting the variety of reasons why schools monitor student digital activities, what…

    Learn More
  • Blog

    Surveillance Won’t Save Our Kids, Humane Public Policy Can

    Sep 17, 2021Isabelle Barbour

    As a result of the lack of investment by our country in mental health services, schools have, for years, been the de facto providers of mental health supports …

    Learn More
  • Blog

    Regulating State and Local Education Agencies

    Sep 15, 2021Elijah Armstrong

    In March of 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic changed education in ways never before seen, as suddenly most students began taking remote classes exclusively. Even no…

    Learn More