Tabulae rasae: Ah, young minds! They grow so fast, mass producing billions upon billions of neurons and synapses in those early years of life that will absorb like a sponge all the vital information necessary to survive and function as healthy, young consumers: favorite flavors of juice box, Ninja turtle mottos, the names of all 12 fast food action figures. Is it any wonder that companies like Channel One and ZapMe see our public schools as little more than market research labs where they can lease ad space in our children’s craniums while gathering personal information on the wee lads without their parents’ notification or consent?
That may all change soon. On June 14, the U.S. Senate passed the Student Privacy Protection Act, which would require parental consent before a person or corporation extracts personal information from a child in school for their commercial benefit. The Senate approved the legislation as an amendment to the Elementary and Secondary Education bill (S.1). The amendment is now pending before a House-Senate conference committee, where it faces strong opposition from the anti-privacy lobby, advertisers, some publishers, and Primedia Inc., owner of the classroom television network, a.k.a. Channel One.
The legislation would require schools to tell parents to whom their children’s personal information would be disclosed, how that information would be used, and the amount of class time consumed gathering it. The main opponent to the student privacy amendment is Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org, and his education staff’s phone number is 202-224-5501. Might as well give him a piece of your mind, since he seems hell-bent on taking one from your kids.
Peeking beneath the robe: Speaking of noses being poked where they don’t belong, it appears some federal judges have been getting rather testy that their Internet surfing habits have fallen under the watchful eyes of Big Brother. According to a report last week by the International Data Group (IDG), a leading information technology, media, and research company, judges in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco (which includes Montana) are protesting the use of software within the federal court system that monitors Internet usage on employees’ computers, including the judges themselves. Judges in the Ninth Circuit have been peeved about e-snooping since 1998, when the software was first installed in the federal system. In May, a gaggle of senior federal judges ordered their IT staff to yank the plug on the monitoring software on the computers of some 10,000 federal employees. This judicial rebellion apparently struck a chord among their fellow bench warmers in the Eighth and Tenth Circuits, who followed suit and launched a rebellion of their own against the nanny software. According to IDG, a panel of top judges—headed by Supreme Court Grand Poobah William Rehnquist—are expected to discuss this policy at a meeting next month. A decision by this august assemblage of adjudicators could have profound implications for how private companies spy on the Internet porn and video gambling habits of their own employees. Currently, only one state—Connecticut—has a law addressing electronic privacy in the workplace. But according to the Privacy Foundation, an estimated 14 million employees in the United States—or about one-third of the nation’s cyberspatial work force—have their Internet or e-mail under some sort of continuous surveillance while at work. Big Brother indeed.