In his essay entitled “Mining Student Data Could Save Lives”, Michael Morris argues that schools should surveil the online activities of their students in order to predict and prevent acts of violence before they occur. Because all network traffic goes through the school’s systems, the IT department in a school can monitor the online behavior of any student, which certainly has the potential to help administrators watch for behavior indicative of intent to act, as well as identify at-risk individuals who managed to fly under the radar before. Morris argues that despite the intrusion of privacy, the monitoring system should be implemented because of its potential to prevent crime. Furthermore, he justifies the lack of privacy by arguing that individuals willingly give up personal information on social media and that companies already collect data for marketing purposes.
Although I do agree with the premise of doing whatever possible to save lives, I don’t agree with the blanket surveillance that Morris seeming to be advocating for. Ignoring the violations of privacy, I don’t believe that looking for patterns in online behavior is an efficient method of determining risk. There are bound to be many false positives from students who don’t actually pose any risk that would waste the school’s resources while they investigate, or worse, students who have malicious intent but don’t exhibit any observable patterns online would completely fly under the radar. In a similar situation, the Patriot Act was passed after 9/11 which allowed public surveillance with the goal to prevent acts of terrorism. However, out of all of the criminal referrals that resulted from investigations, none of them were for terrorism. Acts of terror obviously still occur in the country despite the FBI’s resources, which leads me to question the effectiveness if implemented by a school system. I believe that a more effective method would be targeted investigations of online behavior based on tips from people, which would allow schools to focus their resources in a more efficient manner.