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The Crystal Ball is Cloudy

Michael Morris makes the argument that, through mining student data, examining the digital footprints left by students in their day-to-day lives, universities could prevent violence from occurring on campus. This belief is founded on the idea that students intending to commit violence might leave some evidence of their bad intentions in their online actions. Morris rightly suggests that, if a student has shown strong negative opinions on a particular professor, shopped online for weaponry, and has drafted a suicide note, there is cause for concern.

Morris provides many examples of the added security from student violence that the practice of data mining would provide, but neglects to address in detail the privacy concerns that opening up this information to university authorities introduces. While many of the arguments Morris makes are valid, the article generally seems overly optimistic toward the idea of student data mining. It glosses over concerns of privacy, and of false accusations. Morris uses the example of credit card companies tracking spending behavior to detect fraud. This is a practice I support, as, frequently, it can prevent the owner of the card from having money fraudulently taken away, but credit card companies are not one hundred percent accurate. Sometimes, the owner of the card gets their purchase declined because the credit card company misidentifies suspicious spending habits. In the case of credit card companies, this is fine, as the owner of the card can simply inform the company that there was no fraudulent spending, and the matter is resolved. However, in the case of student terrorist activity, the stakes are much higher. If a student's actions are falsely identified as those of a future murderer, that student can potentially have their life permanently altered by false accusations.

While I have my criticisms of the viewpoints expressed in this article, I do not necessarily completely disagree with it. The issue is a complex one, and I don't believe that there is one correct answer that one can address all of the different concerns and competing priorities when making decisions on whether or not to go forward with mining student data. It's a complicated question that would take much more than 400 words to even begin to try to answer.

Data Mining Should Become a Priority of Campus Officials

In Michael Morris' article, “Mining Student Data Could Save Lives” Morris suggests that if universities are able to track troubling student behavior via data mining through traditionally private information then there would be more at risk and potentially violent behavior being caught early by university officials. Morris also includes that the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (Ferpa), which originally disallowed the release of a student’s information without written consent, has been altered because of the killings at Virginia Tech in 2007. Universities are now allowed to report data on students that they find to be demeaning and potentially threatening.

The central argument that Morris makes is that by increasing the functionality of university threat-assessment teams through data mining it would help avert violence on campus. I agree with Morris’ argument because universities are supposed to be a safe zone for students to learn while experiencing a lifestyle with more responsibilities. Allowing threat-assessment teams to have more control over the data would ensure that student safety and well-being is a priority for campus officials.

Coming from personal experience, I grew up in a suburb of San Diego where it was expected for every high school graduate to move on to universities. The academic pressure for a lot of students was paramount. So paramount in fact, that they couldn’t live with the stress put on them by the school or by the society around them. A total of six students had committed suicide by the time I graduated high school. I feel like with data mining and the enhanced capacity of threat-assessment teams, it would allow them to find data on students who are at risk of hurting themselves in order to cultivate a campus identity built upon health and conversation. I know Vanderbilt does a great job with this especially with the Center of Student Well-being and having accessible hotlines for students to call when they find themselves in hard situations, but this is more of a statement based off of what I have experienced previously to university.

Drawing a Fine Line between Safety and Privacy

Ever since America was hit in the face with the realities of international and domestic terrorism starting with the tragic morning in September of 2001 or even as far back as Columbine in 1996, our country has had a skeptical outlook on the privacy and safety of our citizens and our country as a whole. Although everyone can agree that safety is one of our utmost priorities, many individuals become defensive when personal benefits and freedoms are at stake. Michael Morris is confident that while we continue to tug back and forth at where exactly the line should be drawn, that college campuses should take full advantage of what they have in hand to keep their students safe.

College campuses have the ability to use student data from their systems to track potential threats, particularly on-campus violence attacks and threats. Morris calls it the "crystal ball", which colleges can use to work towards campus safety in general. Morris goes on to talk about various points that require discussion, primarily the distinction between intent of safety and intrusion and all the sub-points that fall under that umbrella. In the past years, the Department of Education in cooperation with several universities has clarified policies such as Ferpa to give  universities more leverage when they feel they need to act on situations that cause any concern or threat.

Personally, I fully agree with Morris's argument primarily because as a college student in an age where society has become numbed to constant breaking news of shootings and acts of domestic terrorism, some action should be taken even if there is controversy and conflict about it. To ensure that our culture does not crumble into pieces, there should and must be an immediate action plan that allows campuses to do what they can in their power to provide safety for all their students. From there, we have the ability to build a new culture that works towards safety among all our citizens.

The Fine Line Between Surveillance and Privacy Invasion

The Newseum display encourages people to consider the issue of privacy versus security and asks us what we would be willing to give up to feel safe.  There are many interesting responses on the whiteboard underneath the display, but the one that stood out to me the most was the Ben Franklin quote, which reads, "Those who would give up essential liberty, to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety." While we can assume Franklin did not say this with modern technology and its possible implications for government surveillance in mind, the core message can still be applied.  Essentially, this statement suggests that personal liberty is a fundamental necessity that should not be sacrificed under any circumstance, which can be interpreted in support of the privacy argument.  If people knew, or even just thought, that they were under constant surveillance, they would likely behave differently, even if they weren't doing anything wrong.  They might begin to feel like they don't have ownership over their own lives.  Like Marcus says in Little Brother, being subject to surveillance is like pooping in public.  You're not doing anything illegal or immoral, but it's still unsettling.

Personally, I agree with Franklin's point that liberty should not be sacrificed for safety, but I don't think that means government surveillance is completely unacceptable.  To an extent, the government can collect information on the general population to look for potential safety risks in a way that doesn't make us feel like we no longer own our lives.  For example, I wouldn't mind if the government had access to information such as my purchase history or even my location history, since I wouldn't feel the need to worry about keeping them private as long as my behavior is legal.  However, I would have a problem if they snooped through my personal ideas in the form of text messages or private note files.  I consider those worthy of being kept private.  If a stranger had access to my personal conversations and thoughts, I would behave differently and feel less in control, even if I'm not doing anything wrong.  Basically, I draw the line where the information collected stops being rationally useful for promoting public safety and begins to threaten my personal liberty for no apparent benefit.

Data Mining: A Lifesaver if Done Right

In the essay, "Mining Student Data Could Save Lives," author Michael Morris claims that universities should use data mining to monitor the online activity of students as a safety precaution.  Access to information about students' online behavior could theoretically be used to identify individuals at risk of committing acts of violence and allow university officials to intervene before anyone gets hurt.

Personally, I agree with the idea that university officials should have access to information that could end up saving lives.  While a certain degree of individual privacy would inevitably be sacrificed, I believe the overall benefits outweigh the costs.  It is unlikely that a typical student would even be affected by the presence of increased surveillance.  However, data mining is a controversial concept and any implementation of such practices would require clearly outlined procedures and restrictions.  First of all, it would be necessary to ensure that the algorithm used to identify red-flag behavior is reliable.  You wouldn't want it to constantly raise alarms at behavior that turns out to be completely harmless, but at the same time, it's important that when there is a real threat, even a subtle one, university officials are able to catch it and determine the correct steps of action.  Additionally, university protocol would have to be designed so that personal student information is only disclosed to appropriate parties, in accordance with FERPA regulations.

One of the most important considerations with online surveillance is the response protocol used when at-risk students are discovered.  In order for university data mining to be successful, potential threats must be dealt with tentatively.  No accusations could be made based solely on analysis of online activity; intervention would have to be non-hostile and carried out with the intent to understand the student's behavior without jumping to conclusions.  Officials must have the mindset to help at-risk students, not attack them.

In conclusion, universities should be allowed monitor student activity via data mining, since it can potentially identify risks of violent behavior.  If implemented correctly, universities could prevent tragedies without interfering with students' daily lives.  As Morris mentioned, we are all already subject to data mining from other sources, and many people are still unaware of its existence.  To me, the fact that data mining could save lives makes it well worth the sacrifice of a small degree of privacy.

Is "increased safety" worth the loss of privacy on college campuses?

Arnie: The issue of privacy vs security is one that we have been asking and will continue asking in the age of the internet, and this question arose in the article by Michael Morris. College campuses and schools are a unique place where this issue manifests itself. Students use university wifi, and with this, a university could theoretically track patterns. This idea is very similar to the idea of the patriot act that was a matter of contention in the past. In the patriot act, the FBI and NSA had the right to access data to try and prevent terrorist attacks. They spent millions/billions of dollars surveilling people, but according to some sources there were no major terrorist attacks that were prevented by this.

I personally have no issue with people trying to use my data or the data of others to get a better picture of who we are and tailor ads towards our preferences. I am of the opinion that if something is on the internet, you need to be prepared for everyone to have access to it and take advantage of it (as scary as that is). I think that colleges could access data, but I think at the end of the day I don't think that there is any algorithm that could catch a huge amount of these cases, but even if a few lives are saved it is worth it. However, in most cases, I think that it will be a drain of money because it will be very hard to create a program that is capable of catching a majority of cases.

Privacy vs Secur--does it even have to be something versus something?

On the Newseum board, there are a lot of arguments for pro-privacy. At the same time, there is another compelling argument to take as much as it has to in order to make people feel safe. 

I feel like people come from many different sides when they are voicing their opinions; their personal experiences in their own lives have shaped their beliefs and has compelled them to draw themselves to one particular side of this argument. One interesting point to notice is: why does there have to be a fine line separating pro-privacy vs pro-security? I believe we can have a healthy mixture of both. It’s when people divide crucial and sensitive topics like this into two distinct sides, that conflicts arise. Security and privacy can go hand-in-hand in some cases, but immediately saying that it is a rivalry where one decision should be better than the other forces people to choose sides even though they have beliefs belonging to both sides. Some people are willing to give up a bit of their privacy because they value their safety over anything (maybe they haven’t experienced an invasion of their privacy and don’t know the frustration of that). Some people are very protective of their privacy and believe that our privacy should be something inherent like freedom of speech (however, they might not have directly experienced a terrorist attack or danger where they’ve feared for their lives and know that government intervention will save lives and prevent terrorism). 

In general, we do have a lot of positive vibes on the board, such as “love not hate” and “good not evil.” Also, I found the quote “living life is an honor, don’t take our freedom away” an interesting quote. Here, we see someone who values life and probably also safety, I’m assuming. In addition to that, they also don’t want their freedom to be taken away. Perhaps that’s referring to freedom of having a private life? Freedom looks like it comes in two ways: the freedom in safety and freedom of having a private life. Which one do you prefer? Maybe both?

What Are the Differences Between Giving Privacy to the Government and to Our Campus?

After the 9/11 attacks, counterterrorism became the FBI’s primary mission. But in order to catch terrorists and thus increase national security, the FBI expanded its intrusion into our personal lives. Therefore it again comes the argument over privacy versus security, which seems quite similar to the campus data-mining case we discussed before. Interestingly, while I refused to give up any privacy last time, I believe the government’s access to some of our privacy is justified as long as it will not compromise our rights of freedom and the pursuit of happiness.

Ensuring nation’s security is extremely hard, because the government has to beware all aspects on its lands that may have security loopholes. Only with the data-mining and digital surveillance, the technologies that can span the country to watch on people’s moves, the government is able to prevent bad things from happening, and take immediate action in case of terror attacks. The campus security, however, is relatively easier to be maintained. Since the campus is merely a small community, rather than infringing students’ privacy, the university can instead increase the number of its security guards, thereby achieving nearly the same safety purpose.

Additionally, giving our privacy to the government’s security departments is much safer than to non-governmental institutions. In other words, the FBI is more reliable than others because it is one of the US leading security agencies in which almost all its officers are selectively recruited and rigorously trained so that they are well capable of keeping our personal data safe after examining it. However, when it comes to non-governmental institutions, it is reasonable to be paranoid that our data may be leaked; criminals may easily hack into the database of a university, but few of them can invade the FBI’s security systems. The FBI can actually protect us from terror attacks with the control over some of our private data against criminals, and thus we should make a concession to exchange some privacy for the nation’s security.

Security vs Privacy: The Dangers of too much Authority

Chapter four of Little Brother really made me mad due to the abuse of basic human rights the American government was willing to surpass in order to receive more legalized power. Expanding on this problem, I am going to address how the governments abuse of Marcus and other captives basic human rights directly relate to the government trying to get more legal power through the public's fear. When Marcus was captured, bagged, and brought to an interrogation facility, nicked named Gintmo-On-The-Bay, his fourth amendment right was violated. The fourth amendment states "[t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized (Cornell Law School)." Marcus' personal digital activity and information was searched unreasonably, he was seized illegally, and he was forced to sign a paper saying he was voluntarily seized and interrogated which I would consider a violation of the fifth amendment which protects people from self incrimination. Because of the government trying to "secure" it violated peoples rights. The governments concern with security, in this case, was false making their actions even worse. The American government in Little Brother had a goal of taking advantage of a terrorist attack and blaming it on the lack of security. From there the government would expand on its power by persuading citizens to support laws that give the government more surveillance control over the citizens themselves. This is dangerous because as the government receives more surveillance power, it becomes easier to label a protester as terrorist. Once this happens, innocent people such as Marcus, will be captured and interrogated based on faulty information.

Is Possible Student Safety More Important than Student Privacy?

In the article, "Mining Student Data Could Save Lives," by Michael Morris, one can draw that Morris argues that if universities began using data mining as a form of preemptive measure to predict "the propensity for a person's future behavior," it would increase the safety of the students from threats.  Data mining is a form of data examination of network usage that can be used to create new information. While data mining can be very important and a key to improving public safety, there is a fine line between analyzing the network usage of someone, and invading personal privacy of those who wish to keep it. I agree with Morris' argument, but only to a degree.

There are a couple reasons for people to not want their university surfing through your data usage. People search up, read, or watch things that wouldn't necessarily point them out as a threat to society, but still want to keep that sought up information to themselves. They also enjoy the pleasure of knowing or believing that they are not being spied on as they navigate social networks or the internet in general.

I agree with these reasons, however, I do believe that data mining, when used in a way that does not forfeit privacy without need, can be effective in stopping violence before it starts. Data mining that tracks extremely dangerous individuals can save countless lives. Using it wisely is the key to not crossing that fine line of protecting students, and invading their privacy. As I say that, you may be asking yourself, where do I draw this line? That honestly depends on the threat level of the situation, the location of the institute, and the overall attitude of the people that are possible non threats that are also being data mined. Let it be known, however, that the data mining of a person who clearly is not a threat, is a clear and direct violation of that person's privacy, no matter how effective a data mining is.

The article begs a question. Should we as a people value our privacy over our safety? This is a very perspective driven question. I believe that not one man or woman can effectively answer this question for another. Nevertheless, this should not stop the drive to keep people safe while keeping their comfort intact, as both are important to us as human beings.

 

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