By writing “because campuses can be prime targets for large-scale acts of violence, …the use of data-mining technology to prevent violence should begin there”, Morris proposes to mine student data, and to allow universities’ surveillance on students for campus security; he also has some good comments on today’s digital life that makes the university easier to keep an eye on students’ behavior. However, his discussion does not take many consequences and potential moral arguments into consideration, and is therefore fallacious.
When Morris says “it is a form of behavioral surveillance, and it can be used to predict, with amazing accuracy, the propensity for a person's future behavior”, I believe he is overconfident about how precise the data analysis could be with today’s technology and social studies on human behavior. The case mentioned by Morris in which Amazon.com mines customers’ search histories so that it can better learn about their interests is untenable. I once heard that someone purchased a wreath for a funeral on Taobao, a Chinese shopping website similar to eBay, and then in the next couple of days he continuously got whole pages of recommendations on things related to funerals, which seemed really creepy; nevertheless, Taobao assumed that he was interested in them, according to its “amazingly accurate” data analysis. It turns out that algorithms designed for analyzing electronic data can’t even accurately tell people’s interests from what they occasionally look for, how could it be used to identify potential violence and predict crimes on campus? What happens if the data analysis wrongly convicts students of potential violence? Perhaps, as Morris writes, the campus “will surely come much closer to the goal” of crime prevention, but flagging an innocent student as a criminal is undoubtedly a terrible outcome that will compromise one’s life.
Additionally, it comes to a more complex moral question of individual sacrifice and overall well-being. If we can sacrifice individuals’ privacy, or even a small group of people’s innocence to prevent something very bad from happening and thus increase the safety of a significantly larger group of people, should we do it? While the answer to this question is likely to vary from person to person, my response is no. Overall security matters, but personal interests matter too. There must be a reconciliation between them; giving up one’s privacy is not a solution to this.
Though Morris’s article is not convincing enough, but it does remind us that with the increasing cases of campus violence, we must find out a way to appropriately use the technology to keep campus safety, while our privacy are protected as well.