Los Angeles School District Monitors Students on Facebook

online_privacy_redbutton1A school district in Glendale, California, is looking at the public posts of its middle school and high school students on social media, looking for violent threats, bullying, evidence of drugs and suicidal posts. The district is paying $45,500 to a third-party online security firm to observe its students social media feeds for one year.

The district experimented with a similar program last year, and staged a successful intervention with a student who was talking about suicide.

“We were able to save a life,” said school Superintendent Richard Sheehan. “It’s just another avenue to open up a dialogue with parents about safety.”

Though no student has yet been disciplined through the program, privacy advocates are uncomfortable with the notion of a business spying on children as young as 13 years old, the legal minimum age that the firm can snoop on kids without parental permission. Though the school is only gathering information from posts that are already public, the principle – observing students outside of the walls of the school – remains the same.

“When the government — and public schools are part of the government — engages in any kind of line-crossing and to actually go and gather information about people away from school, that crosses a line,” said Lee Tien, an attorney for the nonprofit privacy watchdog group Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Readers: how far do you think schools can or should go to protect their students? Do you think this is an infringement of their privacy?