In his essay “Mining Student Data Could Save Lives”, Michael Morris argues that universities should take actions to threat-assess their students’ online activities as well as mental states, thus maximizing the protection of campus safety and preventing large-scale assaults.
In his article, Morris argues that since universities already have access to almost all students’ online activities, they should be the front line of defense, especially as “in the aftermath of nearly every large-scale act of campus violence in the United States, investigation has revealed that early-warning signs had been present but not recognized or acted upon”. However, he does stress the distinction between mining for law violation and mining for university policy violation, as well as a due process that ensures students’ rights.
Personally I agree with Morris’ argument. While the line between security and privacy has always raised heated debates, in the context of universities the line is drawn rather clearly. As Morris states, data mining should strictly abide to the search for large-scale attacks targeting campus members.
The concept of surveillance is alluring with its strong link to “security”, causing the constant overlook of important questions regarding such matter: who is surveiling; what are they looking for; how would they act on their knowledge? Different from Morris’ view, I do not believe that voluntary usage of the internet means voluntary submission of personal data. With the majority of internet users ignorant of techniques behind web surfing, internet usage proposes no indication of forfeiting individual privacy to the institution.
On the other hand, if information is obtained about a large-scale attack, should and could the university take no action? Does the university not pose an obligation to protect its students, workers and faculty members? Does individual privacy have higher value than lives? Some may argue yes, some hesitate, and some give a definite no. The debate is ancient; and no conclusion has been reached.
I agree with Morris because in a university, the size and conduct of surveillance could be monitored. The process could potentially be semi-transparent. And most importantly, the goal is straight-forward. The university would only screen for campus violence, and nothing else. There is no interest involved, no higher authority exercising power on students. Thus comes the reassurance that personal privacy could be retained to its maximum.