In the article “Mining Student Data Could Save Lives” Michael Morris makes an interesting point about data mining on college campuses. According to Morris, since college students are already using accounts and internet access provided by the school, there is no reason that colleges should not be able to monitor student data for early warning signs of mental instability. Morris says “…the truth is that society has been systematically forfeiting its rights to online privacy over the past several years through the continued and increased use of services on the Internet” (Morris). That’s true. Between social media, google searches, and smart phones, most of our lives are now completely digital. That does not mean, however, that I agree with Morris’ sentiments regarding colleges data mining their students.
It all comes down to a basic question of security vs. privacy. How much of our privacy are we willing to give up in the interest of staying safe? The better question might be, how much of our privacy can we give up while still staying safe? Who is to say that the school officials monitoring the data would be completely aboveboard? I realize that college staff is usually very trustworthy, but there are always exceptions to the rule. Imagine what one corrupted school official could do with access to all of that data. Additionally, once those back channels are established, what is to prevent an accomplished hacker abusing them? Data mining may be to keep us “safe,” but it actually opens the door to a whole new set of problems that colleges may not be equipped to deal with.
It is also important to consider the consequences of false threats. If a school decides that a student’s activity is suspicious they would intervene. But then what if the school was wrong? For example, I have had some strange google search histories in the past. I have always wanted to write a murder mystery and I have researched various poisons to see they would work in my plot. It is likely that, should my college be monitoring my activity, that could be flagged as a dangerous. Even if my search histories were an exception to the rule, how would schools avoid adopting a “guilty until proven innocent” mentality in the interest of keeping everyone “safe?” Morris’ idea has good intentions, but ultimately results in more problems and potential security threats than it solves.
Morris, Michael. “Mining Student Data Could Save Lives.” The Chronicle of Higher Education, The Chronicle of Higher Education, 2 Oct. 2011, www.chronicle.com/article/Mining-Student-Data-Could-Save/129231/.