Do you imagine school children would send text messages to each other, featuring naughty swearwords or potentially racy photos, if they thought, for one second, that they were being watched? Probably not, no, and no doubt many parents might think that was a good thing.
But let’s expand the scenario a little wider: do you think school children would use mobile phones at all if they thought they were being monitored? What about if that monitoring was being done by a private company, which was passing the details to their schools? Do you think they’d willingly share that sort of thing? Would you be happy knowing your private details were being shared with your superiors? My guess is probably not.
Mobile phones are great for kids’ safety; they allow parents to liaise with their progeny easily, going some way to scaling back the creeping fear of the 21st century mother and father never to let the little tykes out of sight. But no matter how much you may want to protect the young ‘uns, they will always get into some kind of mischief. Teenagers experiment, and swear like sailors: there is no way to police it.
It is an outrageous imposition into their lives, therefore, to discover that a private company, eSafe, has been tracking up to 700,000 children, parents and teachers via ‘behaviour analysis’ and ‘centralised communication tracking’ of their mobile phones, and passing on data to their schools. The Times claims that among the things monitored by eSafe, are ‘multicultural safeguarding’, ‘inappropriate behaviour at an ethnic and cultural level’, ‘vulgar comments’ and images which could be considered ‘pornographic’.
The report doesn’t make clear just how young the children involved may be, but claims that, rather than just being done in school hours, this monitoring is carried out ’24 hours a day’.
Can you imagine anything quite as Orwellian as this? The idea that, somewhere, somebody is watching everything a vast number of children are saying or doing, they believe, in confidence. Sure, the internet is a dark place, and children can find themselves in all sorts of bother as a result of it, but really, does that justify giving a private company access to their innermost thoughts and interactions? Did anyone ask for their permission? Or even that of their parents? No, according to the Times.
All this will do is make children even more suspicious of authority than they already are, and even less willing to share with their teachers and parents, if they suspect for a minute their technology is being used against them. Frankly, who could blame them? We become rightly outraged whenever there are suggestions (snoopers’ charter et al) that the government is taking a greater interest in our digital communications. Why are we not equally outraged a company and schools are doing the same to the children?