Security in school has increasingly included surveillance of schools. Previously, we discussed some schools using RFID-enabled school uniforms or cards to track students. There’s also been discussion of the use of video surveillance systems, also called CCTV for closed-circuit television, in schools. As the installation of such surveillance systems in K-12 grades and colleges and universities became widespread, officials said the systems were for improved security and to be used by school security or police. But video surveillance has begun spreading beyond security in some schools.
Several years ago, ten schools in the United Kingdom began using facial-recognition camera surveillance systems to make sure students “have turned up, records whether they were on time or late and keeps an accurate roll call,” reported the Daily Mail. And earlier this year, India’s capital of Delhi announced that it “said CCTV will be installed in all government schools within three months” and “Parents in India’s capital will soon be able to watch their children in the classroom in real time, using a mobile phone app,” reported BBC News. (And several schools in India have used RFID technology to track students, including for attendance logs.)
But an even more intimate use of camera surveillance in classrooms is being used in China. People’s Daily Online reports:
The “intelligent classroom behavior management system” used at Hangzhou No. 11 High School incorporates a facial recognition camera that scans the classroom every 30 seconds. The camera is designed to log six types of behaviors by the students: reading, writing, hand raising, standing up, listening to the teacher, and leaning on the desk. It also records the facial expressions of the students and logs whether they look happy, upset, angry, fearful or disgusted.
And the Los Angeles Times reported, “Here, the surveillance cameras took the data on individual facial expressions and used that information to create a running ‘score’ on each student and class. If a score reached a predetermined point, the system triggered an alert. Teachers were expected to take action: to talk to a student perceived to be disengaged, for example, or overly moody.”
The Times noted: “Educators in China have been sharply critical of the Hangzhou school, not only for invading students’ privacy — neither they nor their parents were asked to give consent — but for charging ahead with a unproven system that purports to improve student performance.”
This takes video cameras in schools beyond generalized security. These students and parents never gave consent — informed or otherwise — to the behavioral surveillance and judgment, which affects their grades and privacy.
It is part of China’s pervasive culture of surveillance. We’ve discussed before a BBC News report that, in a test, it took China’s surveillance system seven minutes to locate and apprehend one of its reporters. And a report from Human Rights Watch says Chinese authorities are “collecting DNA samples, fingerprints, iris scans, and blood types of all residents [of an area in Xinjiang] between the age of 12 and 65.” HRW reports that new guidelines “say the biometric collection will be comprehensive: officials have ‘to ensure that [information from] every household in every village, every person in every household, every item for every person’ will be collected. There is no indication that people can opt out of the collection, or any requirement of informed consent.”
Although China’s constant surveillance of its residents is unusually invasive, the fact that other countries have put students under streaming video system and used biometric and RFID technology to track and ID them is notable. It makes clear that surveillance of students has expanded far beyond safety into a realm of constant surveillance society.