This is a continuation of the topic I started on Wednesday that can be found here.
As I said before what happened to Julie can happen to anyone in a public position. Shortly after I discovered Julie’s story, I was presented with the Acceptable Use Policy for my children’s school district. This document was the contract that I was to sign, acknowledging I understood what the school’s policy was on technology and Internet use in the school. My first thought was to ponder why elementary school aged children would not be supervised, thus providing the need for signing of such a document. Then I went through the process of reading the document thoroughly.
Now mind you, as tech savvy as I am, EULAs and licensing agreements on software are something I barely put thought to. Nevertheless, this document had me curious, what did it contain and why did it need my signature as a parent? So I went through the document to see what it contained. In great detail it listed what would be provided, what would be the responsibility of the user and even tried to curtail my criticism of the school district. It was troubling to say the least.
Moreover, protection for my children when they did wrong doing, was the shortest part of the document. This was the most troubling aspect of the document for me.
I decided I needed to speak with someone at the school.
Bumbling, fumbling, mumbling…
Right up front, I must admit I am not the most elegant speaker. My meeting with a school official did not go well. I was passed on to the school’s IT Administrator. This time I prepared myself much better and was able to communicate my concerns much clearer. I was assured repeatedly that my children were in no danger from Internet threats like porn and malware. Nevertheless, I pressed forth and expressed my call was not about the school offering these protections, but what would happen if my children were caught doing something wrong, what investigation would be done to make sure. I was assured things would be investigated thoroughly and only if they did something then they would be in trouble. It was then that I asked for that to be put into the writing of the document. It was at this point that the conversation ended and I was told I would receive a call back to further discuss the matter.
I never received a call back, and I never called back. I chose not to sign the agreement from that point on.
I stepped back from the conversation realizing what situation I was stepping into fully. First, I do not put blame on an IT Administrator reacting the way he did. Understand first that as with any job, there is only so far anyone wants to take the job. My asking for change of policy was something of monumental change and disruption to a system that was probably running smoothly for those in charge of it. Secondly, and sadly, schools are running scared of parents and lawsuits.
This does not excuse their non-response, nor does it excuse my lack of follow up. At the time I did not feel putting this issue out there was worth the fight and what it could mean for my family. At the same time I was discovering and dealing with this issue, was the same time the Lower Merion Web Cam lawsuit was going on. That was the lawsuit where Lower Merion School District was accused of spying on children through web cams on Laptops they provided to students. In turn some local news outlets decided to drag the parents involved in the lawsuits through the mud, so to say.
I since then have learned why Acceptable Use Policies are distributed to parents to sign. It is because of the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA.) CIPA required schools and libraries who received E-Rate discounts on telecommunication services and Internet, must in turn use Internet filters and other measures to protection children from harmful online content. If memory serves me this was one of the hot button issues right before 9/11 attacks. Libraries had been arguing filtering the Internet was un-constitutional; a lawsuit was brought and argued all the way to the Supreme Court where CIPA was upheld.
Acceptable Use Policies are fulfillment of CIPA.
Now that the cause is out of the way…
The main problem with the Acceptable Use Policies is that they do not go into much detail as far as protection goes. As far I see it they do everything to protect the school itself, to a) ensure funding and b) protect from lawsuits, but little concern has gone into situation like Julie Ameros that can still happen.
What has to be understood, that anyone can be wrongly accused on accessing something illegal on the Internet, and right now, we do not have legal understanding of our current technology in relation to current society. There is still argument as we speak about whether an IP (Internet Protocol) Address can lawfully identify an end user. Judges are finding it difficult to understand the complexities this new age is bringing. Just a few years back we were looking at the prospect of minors being charged with sex crimes for Sexting (Sex Texting.) The problem with such prosecution was the rampant spread of such crimes, leading to a majority of future society being sexual predators as defined by current law.
One thing I do not understand is why elementary aged children cannot be introduced to technology in a controlled environment. Intranets (that is an internal network) could serve controlled web pages that would be school controlled, thus forgoing the necessity of such Acceptable Use Policies for elementary children.
One thing that is apparent to me is that with CIPA we have another example of a law passed without proper research or thought. CIPA does nothing to offer protection for neither children nor adults from unfounded accusations. One thing I am finding in my research in multiple districts is this:
a. The School District will cooperate with the School District’s ISP rules, local, state, and federal officials to the extent legally required in investigations concerning or relating to any illegal activities conducted through the School District’s CIS systems.
b. If students or employees possess due process rights for discipline resulting from the violation of this policy, they will be provided such rights.
c. The School District may terminate the account privileges by providing notice to the user.
The problem is this is not strong enough language as it does not define what legal responsibility they are speaking of. While the Acceptable Use Policy goes into great detail on other subjects about exactly what can be done and how it is done on their network, these are the words of protection being offered to the end user. There is no word of what kind of investigation will be carried out and how it will be done. Who covers the cost and what protections exactly will be offered during the investigation.
What needs to happen is for all concerned to have Due Process fully explained and exactly what legal protections are there for the end user. How the investigation will be handled and carried out.
I save this for last because I feel it is most important. I have not named officials I have spoken with, or districts because their names and persecution of them is not needed. My bringing to light this subject is out of concern for innocent people, such as Julie Amero, being prosecuted for crimes they are not guilty of.
One of the scenarios, I know is possible, is for a child in school at a library computer to walk away from their computer for a second and have another student go on their computer and do something illegal. Now this is all logged under the login of the innocent child who made a mistake of walking away for a moment. I know because this sort of thing happened while I was in college. Someone would forget to log out of their computer and as a prank, other students would change the wallpaper to potentially offensive images.
Some might argue that children should know better than to leave a computer unattended. But don’t we live in a society where we allow children to learn and grow from their mistakes? As it is, we do not send minors to adult jail when they commit crimes, but choose to try to rehabilitate first in most cases through the Juvenile Court System. We as adults should do our best to protect children and that means having laws that not only protect what they are viewing, but what happens when they are caught doing something illegal. CIPA just does not go far enough in protection and our schools are doing no better.
Furthermore, we need to offer protections to all in public positions in society such as teaching.
A Final Lesson
The stigma of possessing child porn means that such allegations, even if later proven untrue, can be damning. And the allegation can indeed turn out to be untrue. In 2002, UK police accused over 7,000 people of purchasing child porn from a website, but it later turned out that hundreds of them were merely victims of credit card fraud. Their credit cards had been stolen and used to purchase child porn, so they ended up getting caught in the police dragnet. One of those victims was Simon Bunce, a UK resident whose identity was stolen by a pedophile. Bunce was caught up in the aforementioned pedophile sting, dubbed Operation Ore. Before being fully cleared by the police, Bunce lost his high-paying job, and his family members disowned him. He may never be able to repair the damage to his reputation.