In April 2015, American presidential candidate Hilary Clinton called for all police officers to wear body cameras.
Now the draconian-seeming measures are being implemented in various US school districts. Since the start of the new school year in early September this year, in Burlington Community School District (BCSD), Iowa, all school administrators will be obliged to make cameras part of the dress code.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) was quick to condemn the move. Executive director (Iowa), Jeremy Rosen, says cameras on staff will discourage trusting relationships between teachers and students. Children exhibiting behavioural symptoms suggestive of deeper problems will actively avoid camera-toting teachers and thereby go unassisted.
Says Khaliah Barnes, director of the Electronic Privacy Information Centre’s Student Privacy Project: “Parents and students would be hesitant to talk to a principal about very sensitive subject matter, for fear that the medical issue or the family issue they are discussing would be recorded and kept.” Jules Polonetsky, executive director of Future of Privacy Forum, a Washington DC-based think tank focused on responsible data use, agrees, deeming it unnecessary to create such “overly intrusive… legal histories”.
Jeremy Tabor, head of human resources for the BCSD, says a “sensitive approach” is being taken in training school officials to use the cameras. He’s also reminded naysayers that cameras have been up in school corridors and on buses for years. Such footage is usually deleted after six months.
Polonetsky is of the opinion that arming school authorities will work against students who are not yet emotionally mature, and will highlight their general lack of power. “You end up criminalising or penalising what are ordinary, silly, sometimes offensive behaviours, but within the range of what kids do in the course of the day.”
Tabor and his team have resolutely declared that when the rules are finalised, expectations and obligations will be clear for all concerned. “If a principal seems to be flouting the intent of the programme by recording only what puts her in a good light, she will be dealt with as the district sees fit.”