New Mass Shooting Prevention Bill Will Use 'Anti-Terrorism' Methods To Ramp Up Surveillance Of Students

from the not-quite-the-civics-lesson-schools-had-in-mind dept

The federal government still doesn't have any great ideas on how to head off future school shootings. But it does have some ideas. Some ideas are better than none when calls to "do something" abound. Something is indeed in the works. Unfortunately, the solution being offered just opens up students to increased surveillance, on and off campus.

You already know we're headed to a darker place when the head of the DOJ is touting anti-terrorism tactics as a solution.

As America grapples with the crisis, [Attorney General William] Barr wrote in a letter to federal and local law enforcement officials that it was “critically important ... that we learn from our experiences over the last two decades fighting terrorism and violent crime and that we apply those lessons to hone an efficient, effective and programmatic strategy to disrupt individuals who are mobilizing towards violence, by all lawful means.”

Barr was speaking more broadly of mass shooters, but school shooters are also mass shooters, which means the "individuals" being "disrupted" will sometimes be school students.

Expanded surveillance of school students would be the result of Sen. John Cornyn's RESPONSE Act. (Expanded surveillance of everyone would also be the result of the proposed bill.) There are some helpful aspects to the proposed law, like increasing access to mental health treatment and the hiring of additional mental health professionals to handle the uptick in access.

But the law would also authorize less helpful things, like expedited death penalties and nudging ISPs towards monitoring their customers' internet use.

Encouraging Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to Better Collaborate with Law Enforcement to Prevent Mass Shootings —Clarifies that internet service providers and online platforms have the authority to share information with law enforcement concerning acts of mass violence, hate crimes, or domestic terrorism.

The bill doesn't demand increased monitoring. It just suggests law enforcement will be expected a bit more proactivity from service providers.

The bill also suggests doing more of what hasn't been proven to be useful, like the periodic traumatization of staff and students with active shooter drills.

But it's really about the surveillance. As The Guardian reports, schools are already engaged in plenty of student surveillance. Adding students to the "possible mass shooter" pool would just put existing systems on PEDs.

There is still no research evidence that demonstrates whether or not online monitoring of schoolchildren actually works to prevent violence.

Despite this, new legislation introduced Wednesday by Senator John Cornyn, a Texas Republican and longtime ally of the National Rifle Association (NRA), would update the Children’s Internet Protection Act to mandate that public schools adopt “a technology protection measure that detects online activities of minors who are at risk of committing self-harm or extreme violence against others”.

That mandate isn't going to improve the faulty AI and algorithms already in place. It will increase their use, but it won't make systems prone to false positives any more reliable. Children will become haystacks sifted and sorted by companies like Gaggle. Students will spend more time talking to law enforcement about innocuous posts flagged as suspicious because they contain certain words.

Cornyn's mass shooting plan piggybacks on a vague law that demands schools monitor students online activities. What that covers has never been clearly defined. A do-almost-nothing law that demands increased surveillance will only make existing problems worse. No price is too high to pay for school safety, especially when the price is going to be paid by students.

Filed Under: gun control, john conryn, school shootings, shootings, students, surveillance, surveillance state, terrorism, william barr


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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 25 Oct 2019 @ 8:26pm

    Re:

    *Disclaimer: I work IT in a public school district.

    It won't do much period.

    The federal government already has some laws for monitoring kids' technology use in school. Mainly they mandate the monitoring for "objectionable content" with an additional mandate to make a best effort to prevent access to such content by a student. This comes in as part of your Title 1 funds and the USDA. (Yes, the paperclip was abused here.) "Objectionable content" has no legal definition. Which means that if a parent objects to anything their kid accesses they can sue the district.

    The technical implementation of this law tends to be some sort of proxy server, normally placed somewhere between the internal network and the WAN. With the server configured to force the use of the proxy, and to log everything tying it back to the student / device that sent the packets. (Usually TLS interception is active as well.) One such device is called a "Lightspeed Rocket".

    Guess what? These things tend to only work correctly for Windows machines. Chromebooks are a nightmare to configure as due to how Google's login system works, specifically it's SSO endpoint, you have to whitelist the entirety of google.com and allow it to bypass any and all forms of tracking / authentication. Which makes everything passing through to that domain unreadable regardless of source. So no more tracking searches on the world's biggest and most popular search engine if you want those shiny new Chromebooks to work. Especially if you have a mixed device environment. (I'm more surprised that parents haven't caught on yet and started suing in mass for the lack of supervision...)

    Of course, the penalty for being found non-compliant with federal law is loss of funding, and hungry children. So districts have a big reason to be compliant. Of course with budgets cut year after year, cheaper technology maintenance and replacement is also a concern. As is ensuring that the public doesn't view the district as unable to meet the technological education needs of the students. So it's a catch 22. Use something like a Chromebook to avoid expensive tech costs, and break federal law. Or bankrupt the district maintaining hardware that is compliant, while failing to meet the needs of the students. (For now. Microsoft also pulls the same whitelist requirement for Windows Activation and certain Windows Updates. So the ability is in place, and they can expand it's use in the future. To say nothing of Windows 10's long term usability / stability in a school setting....)

    Google has known about this law for years, and refuse to do anything to address the problem. I'd suspect they'll be just as receptive to the RESPONSE Act.


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