Eye in the Classroom Sky

Aug 28, 2019 by

The Florida Department of Education is playing with fire while walking a tightrope.  They say they just want to be safe.

They have a plan to prevent another Parkland-like school shooting.  Nobody can argue with their priority but neither could a reasonable person advocate for their means of going about it.

They have established a portal consisting of a database that includes “certain critical threat indicators” based on students’ actual and potential behavior, mental health records, referrals and recommendations and their history of posts on social media. 

The rationale to this is that most prior mass killings were committed by people who had given evidence of their intention or propensities and yet these red flags were either not called to the attention of law enforcement or else not acted upon by them.

The sheriff of Pinellas County temperately observed that “the last thing we want to do is make a decision that’s wrong because we had the information, we just couldn’t access it”.

Certainly it makes sense not to ignore such signals. But at what cost to privacy rights?

Civil rights groups have warned about “mass surveillance” of students. They note that some of the shootings were perpetrated by students who had complained about having been bullied and therefore, the proposed initiative might have the effect of discouraging reports of intimidation and harassment, lest the reporter then be profiled as a potential danger of violent retaliation.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the Southern Poverty Law Center argue against the database because of its peril as a possible “tracking tool”.  They feel it is “too broad”, despite assurances that it cannot be stored or downloaded and would not include the race, disability, religion or sexual orientation of any student and could be viewed for 30-minute sessions solely by law-enforcement and designated school staff who would be bound by user agreements.

There appears to be a serious vetting issue here which may or not be overcome or even accepted as the result of a risk/benefit analysis of the greater concerns.

The database was required by law to be launched this month and was the basis of an executive order from Governor DeSantis last February.

“Eye in the Sky” is a recently published book that with meticulous detail and chilling imagery describes the Pentagon’s “Gorgon Stare”, which with terrifying microscopic specificity, reveals the government’s reconnaissance of all who dwell in this country. It is done in the name of safeguarding the nation and there is no doubt that it will allow for the solving of otherwise hopeless elusive crimes and perils. 

But not implausibly, it might also be dedicated to the execution of more sinister designs.

It is not science fiction.

The Florida DOE is not given to that level of benign or malignant intrusion, but let’s not dismiss the specter of the “slippery slope”. Even in New York!

Ron Isaac

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