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.

11 thoughts on “teaching kids about censorware and privacy

  1. Cory Doctorow

    Thanks for the kind words, Jill! Don’t know if you’ve heard but Det Norske Samlaget is publishing Little Brother in Norwegian in September and I’m coming over for a launch!

  2. Jill Walker Rettberg

    @martingruner just told me about the Norwegian launch on Twitter! That’s great news, and I really hope that it increases awareness of surveillance and privacy and censorship in Norwegian high schools and among Norwegian teens. When will you be coming?

  3. Lars

    There is something like the FOIA in Norway, “offentlighetsloven”. It ought to be possible to use this to do research on the censorware used by schools, although the complex and centralised way the Norwegian school system works makes it hard to know where to start digging. I’ll certainly consider giving this assignment when I start teaching media and communications this fall.

  4. Jill Walker Rettberg

    Oh, excellent! I hope you blog about it!

  5. Cory Doctorow

    Looks like Sept 14/15 according to my calendar!

  6. Jill Walker Rettberg

    Great, that’s not too far off. Though I’m assuming it’ll be in Oslo – we’re in Bergen, so probably won’t be able to se eyou.

  7. Bente Kalsnes

    Is reading @jilltxt blog post,Teaching kids about censorware and Privacy http://bit.ly/Ojpsn Need to read Doctorow’s book, Little Brother.

  8. Privacy News

    RT @benteka: Is reading @jilltxt blog post,Teaching kids about censorware and Privacy http://bit.ly/Ojpsn Need to read Doctorow’s book, Litt

  9. […] After reading Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother I went in search of more ways in which kids today are under surveillance. Schools are major culprits. My daughter was horrified when I told her the many ways in which teachers can see what she’s up to through It’s Learning, the LMS that all kids in Bergen use. This video about the use of technology in a US school is chilling in the normality of the assitant principal showing the reporter how he can see each student’s screen, and how the webcam is often on. This year, a Philadelphia high school accused a student of having drugs – in his bedroom – based on webcam images snapped in his home on his school-issued laptop. And yes, even in Norway, schools run outrageous spyware on student laptops. […]

  10. Forelesning 2: FORTELL

    […] 2. Hva vil du avsl??re om deg selv? Hva b??r du avsl??re? Personvern: Foucaults panopticon (overv?•kning som disiplinerende), Storebror ser deg – dette har snudd til sousveillance (vi overv?•ker autoritetene – og hverandre?), Vetlebror ser deg, og overv?•kning med m?•l om kommersiell gevinst (“When Mark Zuckerberg says the era of privacy is over, he is not describing a cultural change that has come about because of the web; he‚Äôs simply articulating his business plan.“). Det er viktig ?• tenke p?• personvern: hva vil du avsl??re om deg selv? Hva avsl??rer du om dine venner og familie? Oppgave: s??k p?• deg selv p?• Google. Hvordan ser du ut for en som kun m??ter deg p?• nettet? Logg ut av Facebook og se hva du finner om deg selv. […]

  11. […] Jeg ble faktisk overrasket over resultatet: ingen av gruppene mente at avisene hadde brutt god presseskikk. De fleste mente at de fleste av sakene var ikke-nyheter, men at det er ikke var noe galt i  publisere dem. Man m akseptere at alt man skriver p internettet kan st p forsiden av avisen, nÂr som helst, mente studentene. Det passer forsÂvidt med unders¯kelser som viser at ungdom aksepterer overvÂkning i langt st¯rre grad enn tidligere generasjoner. […]

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