teaching kids about censorware and privacy

I absolutely loved Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother, a young adult novel set in a very-near-future San Francisco where high school students’ every move is tracked by censorware in their laptops and on the school network and surveillance devices in the hallways. Of course, students learn how to evade much of this, and when terrorists blow up the Bay Bridge and the Department of Homeland Security turns the country into a totalitarian, total-surveillance horror, it’s high school kids who hook up their xboxes to create an alternative network and figure out ways of showing the cowardly complying adults how outrageously their government is treating them. At times the novel is a little too pedantic – three pages explaining how PGP encryption works can get a little tedious – but the story’s good enough to forgive this.

Better yet, I gave the novel to my 13-year-old daughter, and to my delight, she also loved it. This is the kind of stuff I want her to learn about the web and privacy and how the world works. And now she knows what PGP encryption is – not a bad thing in my book.

Today Cory Doctorow tweeted a link to a lesson plan he created to teach kids network literacy – not the kind that is taught in schools today, which largely involves teaching kids to assume everything they do will be surveilled, yet that they should guard their privacy by being terrified of putting anything at all online. No, Cory’s lesson plan has kids learning about the censorware they’re submitted to, figuring out how it harms their learning, how arbitrary it is, how people get around it and how to find out more about it. My favourite assignment?

7) Research how to file a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request and use the procedure to discover how much your school or school board spends on censorware.

Is there something similar to the FOIA in Norway? Can Norwegian students find this sort of information as well?

After reading Little Brother I wondered how realistic the heavy surveillance of high school kids was. Quite realistic, I suspect. I already knew that every move students make in It’s Learning, the LMS most schools in Norway use, is tracked by the teacher (something my 13-year-old was shocked to hear: they’ve never been told this), but the laptop every high school student gets and is required to use also comes with many limitations on how students can use them. Freakforum.nu seems to be where most of the discussions about this are – for instance, How to get administrator access to your computer. Norwegian media has written recently about surveillance of high school kids – worryingly, kids studying media at Elvebakken videregÂende in Oslo think it’s fine that their every move is watched so long as the purpose “is good” and their private email isn’t read by their teachers. Camera surveillance in schools would be great, they think, and while they don’t want radio surveillance sewn into their own clothes, they’d approve of it for little kids. According to Dagsavisen, in Nord-Tr¯ndelag all high schools have installed an “Employee Computer Monitoring Software” called 2 AMI MAS on all student laptops, which according to the website tracks everything:

MAS captures and securely stores records of all user activity ñ not just on the internet but in every application including email, word processing, spreadsheet applications, instant messaging and online.

Happily, the Norwegian -.. is skeptical to all this, as they certainly should be. As a commenter on the article in Dagsavisen wrote, this certainly appears to be in contravention of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child:

1. No child shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his or her privacy, family, or correspondence, nor to unlawful attacks on his or her honour and reputation.

What are we teaching our kids? That they should assume their every move is being tracked? What kind of a society is that?

I hope these kids read Orwell’s Big Brother AND Doctorow’s Little Brother.

23. July 2009 by Jill
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