Republicans aim to stop school shootings with mass surveillance
The Response Act calls on schools to increase monitoring of students' online activity.
- The Response Act was introduced by Senator John Cornyn, a Texas Republican, and was co-sponsored by five other Republican senators.
- Among other measures, the bill aims to "incentivize schools to enforce internet safety policies that detect online activities of minors."
- However, there is no evidence showing that student surveillance technologies actually prevent violence.
In an effort to prevent mass shootings, Senate Republicans have proposed a bill that calls for school districts to use surveillance technology to monitor students' online activity.
The bill, entitled the Response Act, would incentivize schools to purchase technology designed to flag online activity from minors "who are at imminent risk of committing self-harm or extreme violence against others." The legislation was introduced by Senator John Cornyn, a Texas Republican whom the National Rifle Association (NRA) has given a perfect score for supporting Second Amendment rights. Among the 10 measures on the bill, one mentions firearms.
That measure would create federally funded, nationwide task forces to investigate and prosecute unlicensed firearms dealers. Cornyn's bill also calls for boosting federal funding for states' mental health programs, increasing law enforcements' access to active shooter training, and speeding up the death penalty for mass murderers.
But some privacy and student advocates are concerned about the idea of incentivizing public schools to implement surveillance technology. For millions of students, this kind of mass surveillance is already the norm.
The $3 billion school security industry
Many U.S. school districts have turned to the school security industry for help in the wake of school shootings. In addition to more traditional security techniques like metal detectors and X-ray machines, the school security industry offers services that keep a close eye on what students are doing online.
Companies like Gaggle, for example, monitor students' activity on school computers by scanning through documents, emails and even calendar entries. Meanwhile, companies like Social Sentinel look beyond school networks to scan students' social media profiles for potential threats, claiming to offer schools "total awareness."
It's unclear exactly how many schools use these services, but it's likely that millions of students in the U.S. are being surveilled when they walk into school. The problem that some privacy and student advocates have is that there's no hard evidence showing that these new approaches really work.
False flags and a lack of evidence
There's no evidence that any measure to prevent school shootings is effective, according to a 2019 study that examined various prevention techniques and school shootings from 2000 to 2018. But school security technologies do produce false flags, whether over "To Kill a Mockingbird" essays or tweets about the movie "Shooter".
"There's no proven information showing that social media monitoring is useful," Amelia Vance, a student privacy advocate with the Future of Privacy Forum, told NPR. "We have a lot of data showing it overwhelms with false flags."
Vance also noted that surveillance systems – which can divert school districts' time and money away from other areas of investment – can change the learning environment.
"You are forcing schools into a position where they would have to surveil by default," Vance told The Guardian. "There's a privacy debate to be had about whether surveillance is the right tactic to take in schools, whether it inhibits students' trust in their schools and their ability to learn."
No easy solution
In the wake of the 2018 school shooting in Parkland, Fla., members of the public at a school board meeting in Old Bridge, N.J., asked school officials, "What are you going to do to prevent the next school shooting?"
"Things changed after Parkland," David Cittadino, superintendent of Oak Bridge schools, told NPR.
Facing this kind of pressure from scared and frustrated parents, it's no wonder that many schools are willing to try out unproven methods in an attempt to bolster security for students.
"It's similar to post-9/11," Rachel Levinson-Waldman, a lawyer with the liberty and national security program at the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University law school, told Education Week. "There is an understandable instinct to do whatever you can to stop the next horrible thing from happening. But the solution doesn't solve the problem, and it creates new issues of its own."
To create wiser adults, add empathy to the school curriculum.
- Stories are at the heart of learning, writes Cleary Vaughan-Lee, Executive Director for the Global Oneness Project. They have always challenged us to think beyond ourselves, expanding our experience and revealing deep truths.
- Vaughan-Lee explains 6 ways that storytelling can foster empathy and deliver powerful learning experiences.
- Global Oneness Project is a free library of stories—containing short documentaries, photo essays, and essays—that each contain a companion lesson plan and learning activities for students so they can expand their experience of the world.
Philosophers like to present their works as if everything before it was wrong. Sometimes, they even say they have ended the need for more philosophy. So, what happens when somebody realizes they were mistaken?
Sometimes philosophers are wrong and admitting that you could be wrong is a big part of being a real philosopher. While most philosophers make minor adjustments to their arguments to correct for mistakes, others make large shifts in their thinking. Here, we have four philosophers who went back on what they said earlier in often radical ways.
Numerous U.S. Presidents invoked the Insurrection Act to to quell race and labor riots.
- U.S. Presidents have invoked the Insurrection Act on numerous occasions.
- The controversial law gives the President some power to bring in troops to police the American people.
- The Act has been used mainly to restore order following race and labor riots.
It looks like a busy hurricane season ahead. Probably.
- Before the hurricane season even started in 2020, Arthur and Bertha had already blown through, and Cristobal may be brewing right now.
- Weather forecasters see signs of a rough season ahead, with just a couple of reasons why maybe not.
- Where's an El Niño when you need one?
Welcome to Hurricane Season 2020. 2020, of course, scoffs at this calendric event much as it has everything else that's normal — meteorologists have already used up the year's A and B storm names before we even got here. And while early storms don't necessarily mean a bruising season ahead, forecasters expect an active season this year. Maybe storms will blow away the murder hornets and 13-year locusts we had planned.
NOAA expects a busy season
According to NOAA's Climate Prediction Center, an agency of the National Weather Service, there's a 60 percent chance that we're embarking upon a season with more storms than normal. There does, however, remain a 30 percent it'll be normal. Better than usual? Unlikely: Just a 10 percent chance.
Where a normal hurricane season has an average of 12 named storms, 6 of which become hurricanes and 3 of which are major hurricanes, the Climate Prediction Center reckons we're on track for 13 to 29 storms, 6 to 10 of which will become hurricanes, and 3 to 6 of these will be category 3, 4, or 5, packing winds of 111 mph or higher.
What has forecasters concerned are two factors in particular.
This year's El Niño ("Little Boy") looks to be more of a La Niña ("Little Girl"). The two conditions are part of what's called the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) cycle, which describes temperature fluctuations between the ocean and atmosphere in the east-central Equatorial Pacific. With an El Niño, waters in the Pacific are unusually warm, whereas a La Niña means unusually cool waters. NOAA says that an El Niño can suppress hurricane formation in the Atlantic, and this year that mitigating effect is unlikely to be present.
Second, current conditions in the Atlantic and Caribbean suggest a fertile hurricane environment:
- The ocean there is warmer than usual.
- There's reduced vertical wind shear.
- Atlantic tropical trade winds are weak.
- There have been strong West African monsoons this year.
Here's NOAA's video laying out their forecast:
ArsTechnica spoke to hurricane scientist Phil Klotzbach, who agrees generally with NOAA, saying, "All in all, signs are certainly pointing towards an active season." Still, he notes a couple of signals that contradict that worrying outlook.
First off, Klotzbach notes that the surest sign of a rough hurricane season is when its earliest storms form in the deep tropics south of 25°N and east of the Lesser Antilles. "When you get storm formations here prior to June 1, it's typically a harbinger of an extremely active season." Fortunately, this year's hurricanes Arthur and Bertha, as well as the maybe-imminent Cristobal, formed outside this region. So there's that.
Second, Klotzbach notes that the correlation between early storm activity and a season's number of storms and intensities, is actually slightly negative. So while statistical connections aren't strongly predictive, there's at least some reason to think these early storms may augur an easy season ahead.
Image source: NOAA
Batten down the hatches early
If 2020's taught us anything, it's how to juggle multiple crises at once, and layering an active hurricane season on top of SARS-CoV-2 — not to mention everything else — poses a special challenge. Warns Treasury Secretary Wilbur Ross, "As Americans focus their attention on a safe and healthy reopening of our country, it remains critically important that we also remember to make the necessary preparations for the upcoming hurricane season." If, as many medical experts expect, we're forced back into quarantine by additional coronavirus waves, the oceanic waves slamming against our shores will best be met by storm preparations put in place in a less last-minute fashion than usual.
Ross adds, "Just as in years past, NOAA experts will stay ahead of developing hurricanes and tropical storms and provide the forecasts and warnings we depend on to stay safe."
Let's hope this, at least, can be counted on in this crazy year.
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