The immanent threat of school shooters is a sad but unfortunate reality of today’s world. In “Mining Student Data Could Save Lives,” Michael Morris contends that universities possess a crystal ball of sorts. By allowing students to access the university’s private network with personal email accounts and wireless internet access, schools have the ability to monitor student’s online activity. Morris offers an anecdote of when monitoring virtual activity would be efficacious:
“If university officials were to learn that a student had conducted extensive online research about the personal life and daily activities of a particular faculty member, posted angry and threatening comments on his Facebook wall about that professor, shopped online for high-powered firearms and ammunition, and saved a draft version of a suicide note on his personal network drive, would those officials want to have a conversation with that student, even though he hadn’t engaged in any significant outward behavior? Certainly.“
In this particular scenario, it in indisputable that this student was a threat to both himself and others and that mining his data saved numerous lives. This is an extreme, worst-case-scenario example. Morris discusses campus threat-assessment teams which look to identify such behavior. Given knowledge of a troubled student’s intentions, a university certainly has the right to intervene. However, in this modern world, the internet is no longer a luxury, but an integrated part of the education system. Schools maintain learning management systems so that all classes have online components. Having a computer is no longer an option, but rather a requirement of being a college student. Shouldn’t students have at least some right to privacy? Anything posted on social media, such as the threatening Facebook comments, is out for public view and can absolutely be tracked. Even flagging students for visiting suspicious websites and browser searches while on the university’s private network is acceptable. But mining data from personal emails and documents directly from a student’s computer without warrant seems unethical and invasive to me. In the age where we keep everything stored on our phones, business, personal and otherwise, I believe student’s have some right to maintain anonymity.