Privacy: The Observa-tories

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With recent happenings within American schools in mind, providing a safe place of education for young people is obviously very important. Students should not be afraid to go to classes, and parents want to be secure in the knowledge of the safety of their children.

Outside of school, people’s desire for safety has lead to an increase in security cameras (there was one security camera for every fourteen people in the UK in 2006, and the number has, of course, risen since then), the introduction of tasers to the UK police force, and security checks at airports that reach near obsessive levels. But how far are we willing to take this?

We often talk about the “Big Brother” state, popularised by George Orwell’s book ‘1984’. The concept of having our lives ruled for us, with no privacy and no individual thought, is a fear rooted in anti communistic viewpoints. And yet, to a degree, we are increasingly coming under surveillance from governments and private companies in order to, supposedly, prevent criminal or unjust behaviour.

Your parents coming into your room unannounced is one thing. Laws like SOPA and PIPA, on the other hand, are another. These laws would give American companies the rights to shut down ANY service, regardless of its country of origin that it deemed to be breaking copyright laws: Laws that are vague and out of date in the first place. It means criminal charges for people who end up on pirating sites: and with those laws in place, authorities’ behaviour towards enforcing them will have to become stricter.

Already there are concerns about Internet monitoring: do we really want police officers and government figures looking over everything we say? Surely we can’t trust them to be wholly objective in their analysis: an unfortunate conclusion only exacerbated by the recent unravelling of the Andrew Mitchell case. We should be able to trust the police with our lives and what we say: and yet we can’t.

And then there’s the case of Andrea Hernandez, a fifteen-year old in the US. Hernandez’s school, John Jay High School in Texas, is trialling a scheme where its students must wear an RFID (Radio Frequency identification Technology) badge which constantly sends information about a student’s whereabouts to the local authorities. Based on the amount who attends classes, The NSID (the local authority) assigns different amount of funding.

Hernandez refused to wear the badge on religious grounds more than any fear of surveillance: her father told papers that it was “The Mark of the Beast”: but despite this, there are worrying signs in this case. A local liberties group said student tagging and locating projects were the first step in producing a "compliant citizenry" and, to a degree, he’s not wrong.

No, it’s not a good idea to truant, but a system that observes where you are constantly is not a good alternative. Technology is increasing at a rapid pace, and these tags are using radio signals. How difficult would it be to intercept the information, and know where young people are?

Arguably there’s a case that the badges are pretty pointless anyway: they can be taken off, you have to collect them in the first place, and they can be left anywhere. Hernandez herself, surprisingly, lost the case to wear the badge, and was told to either put it on, or transfer schools. While I would argue that it was her angle of attack that lost her the case (biblical orders don’t hold much weight in a court of law), it is worrying that the idea of tracking children is seen as preferable to other forms of security.

We need to be careful that in trying to protect people, we’re not creating the tools for those in power to have too much of it. This may seem very conspiracy theory: David Cameron sitting in his office, watching you as you sleep is more a joke (or a disturbing image) than a real threat: but there does need to be a modicum of common sense applied to how we fight crime, as opposed to blanket surveillance.

What are your opinions surrounding privacy and security? Comment below or find us on Twiiter @labelonline or via our new Facebook page by clicking right here.

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