The panoptic school

November 15, 2007 at 3:00 am Leave a comment

To me, schools should be enjoyable places. I was a teacher for some years and I loved school – both as a teacher and student. I know a lot of people say “oh I hated school” but I really liked it. Great friends, great teachers, a carefree time, filled with discovery and learning. But that was before our current society’s obsession with surveillance, control and fear. Mind you, I went to school during the Cold War (way back in the 1950s – nope, kidding not that long ago!) but certainly when the US and the Soviet Union were eyeballing each other and films and novels were crowded with KGB and CIA agents. So to some extent, you’d expect that kids were drilled in how to put a gun together blindfolded in two nano-seconds or how to build an atomic bomb shelter or how to say “nyet” in Russian just in case the KGB materialised on your doorstep. But nope, I was never taught any of these things at school. There was no sense of worry, no need to look at a fellow student with suspicion wondering if they are about to whip out a gun. Sadly, as we know from all the shootings in US schools and last week’s one in Finland (Finland of all places??) where the freak gunman posted a YouTube video before the massacre – schools aren’t what they used to be.

And so to some extent I can understand the desire to bring in surveillance cameras. This makes more sense to me that those creepy CCTV cameras you find in public places like shopping malls. A school in Nashville is about to become the first school in the US to install facial recognition cameras. Digital images of students and staff will be loaded up and stored in a camera system in three tests schools. When the camera spots a face that it can’t match with a stored image, it will squeal. Interestingly, the same facial recognition technology was discarded by Tampa and Virginia Beach police because it didn’t help to spot intruders or criminals.

Civil libertarians are naturally concerned over a few things: the system could be used to detect students who skip class or students could be tracked throughout the day. Pretty sad indictment of our world – the panoptic school.

Source: USA Today. Image credit: CBS News

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Entry filed under: Facial recognition, Schools and schoolchildren, Surveillance society.

Secrecy and surveillance: twin evils Rumsfeld’s snowflakes

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