Metal detectors. Dog sniffs. Networked surveillance cameras. Bar
codes. Swipe cards. Biometrics. Thermal imaging. Wire taps and
electronic communication monitoring. Blood and urine testing. Cell
phone, pager, and transit card tracking. Radio frequency identification
(RFID) tags. Facial recognition software. GPS tracking. Correlation of
disparate online databases. Microchip implantation. National identity
cards. Everyware. And so on…
We are rapidly approaching a time where every move – every action – can be monitored, archived, and correlated. The right of privacy precious to many is rapidly disappearing as we trade it for safety and convenience. The surveillance society is right around the corner, if it’s not already here.
On the school front, many administrators dispense with students’ 4th
Amendment rights in the name of ‘safety.’ They know what the law says,
but community pressures or perceived dangers outweigh Constitutional
rights. Many of these administrators are in schools with no history of
violence or threats. But Columbine freaked everyone out – if it could happen there, it could happen anywhere – so anything goes when it comes to student rights.
said, "Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little
Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety." The United
States Supreme Court, in West Virginia Board of Ed. v. Barnette,
said, "That they are educating the young for citizenship is reason for
scrupulous protection of Constitutional freedoms of the individual, if
we are not to strangle the free mind at its source and teach youth to discount important principles of our government as mere platitudes."
As leaders, we should be discussing these issues – with each other,
with our communities, with our students. Do we really want to live in a
surveillance society? Do we still care about the 4th Amendment right to
be free from suspicionless search? What is the proper balance between
legitimate concern and undifferentiated fear? What kind of world do we want to leave for our children?
When we allow government to assume all authority for protecting us, or when we give up our rights to self defense and self determination–expecting the government to make us safe–we should hardly be surprised to find goverment demanding more and more power and expanding more and more into the sphere of personal privacy. While I, for the most part, wait for actual evidence of the horrendous privacy depradations some keep trying to ascribe to the Bush Administration, it is without doubt true that any government will do its best to not only retain but expand its power in any way possible.
Not only can the government, through the police, not protect any individual citizen, but government has no legal obligation to do so. We are all ultimately responsible for the personal safety not only of ourselves, but of our families. Expecting government to do it, in the schools or elsewhere, is an illusion that tends to be exposed as such primarily through tragedy.
At the same time, we ought to be very careful about knee jerk opposition to reasonable anti-crime measures such as videocameras and other minimally intrusive technologies and practices. As adults, we do have a responsibility to do our best, don’t we?