How the COVID-19 Pandemic Has Encouraged Privacy-Invasive Technologies in Schools

The coronavirus pandemic came with a lot of challenges for the world. It has forced us to challenge and revamp virtually every mode of carrying out tasks. One of the areas its impact is most felt is in the way it has restricted physical gatherings. At the moment, in a bid to curb the spread of the virus, most schools are turning to remote learning using internet-based facilities. 

However, turning to the internet has exposed students to cybersecurity challenges. Using internet-based systems makes students vulnerable to possible breaches from hackers, cybercriminals, and the likes. 

Apart from the fact that a focus on the internet-based education process has opened students up to data breaches, school authorities themselves sometimes deliberately share students’ data.  Students share personal data with the school authorities as part of the learning process. These authorities, in turn, circulate these data within their internal systems and sometimes even with third parties. These processes make such internet data vulnerable as any weak link in the process could (irreparably) compromise the identity of such students. 

In some cases, these authorities refer to the Education Act as a source of authority. Ostensibly, the Act gives them the right to share data with third parties without seeking additional permission from parents. However, this is problematic because the Education Act predates the internet. Furthermore, framers of the Act most certainly would not have anticipated the challenges that the coronavirus pandemic has occasioned. Parents have no choice but to acquiesce to such invasive practices because of the lack of alternatives. 

Why the Problem Exists

Generally, the threat of exposure of data is not unique to the school system. There has been a sharp increase in internet crimes since the coronavirus pandemic broke out. This is no doubt tied to the fact that a lot of individuals are turning to the internet to sustain communication and conduct business. However, certain reasons can account for the dangerous position students and their parents are in in this particular situation. 

The first is ignorance. Most teachers do not have sufficient knowledge about cybersecurity to take appropriate measures to protect students’ data. Even for teachers with above-average knowledge of how the internet functions, some still may not know how to ensure that students are safe the entire time. Thus, a fallout of this ignorance is that the teachers fail to realize when a breach has occurred and the steps to prevent future leaks of students’ information. 

Another problem can be attributable to these technologies themselves. Some of the developers pay little attention to the porousness of their systems. This could be because of ignorance of privacy and security features. Thus, the consequences of their inadvertence and ignorance are borne by the students and their parents. 

On the other hand, the problems with the technologies might be due to the unscrupulous nature of such developers. It would no doubt take more, in terms of time spent and resources expended, for developers to produce apps that have great privacy and security integrity. Some of these individuals just choose not to take that path. Hence, school administrators are then saddled with technologies that compromise the security of students. Given that, as highlighted above, most of the school authorities are unaware of the security challenges posed by these technologies, they are ill-equipped to protest and demand better products. 

Why Data-Invasive Technologies in Schools are Worrisome

Forcing students and their parents to use privacy-invasive technologies is problematic for several reasons. We will discuss a few here.

The Vast Amount of Data Available

The security breaches are particularly important because of the quality and quantity of student information being exposed. Before the transfer to the digital process, identifying information about the average student-related mostly to their name and student number. However, while on the internet, data that become exposed include the IP address of the student, which in turn can reveal the exact location of such a person. Thus, a potential criminal can even carry out physical attacks based on that. 

In addition, educational authorities also track and record classroom photos, academic performance records, and even information relating to the student’s health records. In the vast majority of cases, the school authorities retain such information to better anticipate students’ needs and offer help and insight where necessary. The continuous tracking of student information is to ensure that the students are actively participating in the learning process.  However, given that the data is often shared across channels that are not secure, students could bear the bulk of the authorities’ incompetence. 

Ease of Access

Furthermore, it is problematic because of the ease with which students’ data can be gathered. Unlike hard copies of data that will take longer to gather, porous online systems give cybercriminals ease of access. Hence, with the click of a few keys, a hacker can access the vast quantity of data available. This ease of access does give cause for concern. 

Inability to Opt-Out

At the moment, some school authorities require parents’ consent for sharing students’ digital data with third parties. However, such requests are made without giving full information to parents. More so, parents are not given other alternatives if they choose to decline or withdraw their consent. Furthermore, some of the authorities go as far as punishing the students whose parents exercise their right to opt-out. These actions back parents into a corner, leaving them little room to push back or decline offers from the school authorities.

Lack of Knowledge of Security Measures to Take

Beyond the fact that parents, guardians, and even the students themselves have no recourse to take, there is also the problem of ignorance. It is true that cyberthreats have been exacerbated because of the focus on using digital processes to learn due to the coronavirus pandemic. However, that is not to suggest that these challenges had not existed in the past. 

Companies and individuals whose activities require them to share sensitive data using internet systems have always managed to keep safe while doing their jobs. This, of course, suggests that it is possible to be safe even while using these systems that appear compromised. 

The challenge then is one of ignorance. A lot of folks are unaware of the steps to take to be secure while on these systems. This is bearing in mind that it might be impossible to stay off the internet completely. What then are the steps to take to be safe and protect your child’s data while they use the internet for study? We will look at specific measures in the next section. 

Measures To Take To Protect Your Child’s Privacy 

The security challenges your ward can experience while using internet-based educational facilities are numerous. One of such, as discussed here, is the potential for data breaches. Furthermore, there are the threats of ransomware and other pesky viruses. These could have some effects, such as slowing down the operation of the computer or even opening your child’s computer system to bigger threats. Furthermore, without adequate supervision, your child could access pornography, Islamic extremist content, etc. How do you keep your child safe in the face of all of these threats?

Use Antivirus Applications

There are quite a number of them you can download and install on your child’s device. This will block any virus that tries to attack your child’s computer. 

Utilize Parental Control

Most apps and devices have options for parental control. You can take advantage of that. It will then be up to you to decide how much time you want your child to spend on the internet or with specific devices. Some devices give you the option of limiting some functionalities, such as shutting off the device’s camera and mics. 

Request Full Details of Shared Data

You may want to speak to your child’s school authorities to find out what information they retain and which they share with third parties. If you are uncomfortable with the extent of information being divulged, you can ask for a review. It might also be a great idea to consider the security features and mechanisms the educational institutions implement. Do not hesitate to ask for an upward review if you are uncomfortable with the security process the schools adopt. You should be firm and insistent and even threaten legal action if it comes to that. Rallying other parents around on the subject is also another option to explore. The school authorities will definitely be more than willing to listen to you at that point.  

Conclusion

Security challenges posed by the internet continue to grow by the day. However, you should do your part to protect yourself and your child even as they learn using the internet. Do your part by verifying the security systems and data-sharing agreements the school authorities employ.