Opponents Voice Privacy Concern Over Cornyn's Response Act

I don’t know how many times I need to say it, but no one is happy about mass shootings. While they represent only a tiny sliver of a percent of the overall gun-related violence in this country, they are still something that we all want to work to combat. The problem, however, is in trying to figure out how.


While Democrats have latched onto gun control, Republicans looked to other strategies to try and combat what certainly looks like a plague to many.

In response to this summer’s mass shootings, Sen. John Cornyn offered up his Response Act to address the problem. Now, some opponents are taking issue with it over privacy concerns.

The bill’s school safety proposals are a response to years of school shootings perpetrated by young people described as isolated and troubled.

But advocates have raised red flags over the Response Act’s requirement that schools begin monitoring their computer networks to “detect [the] online activities of minors who are at risk of committing self-harm or extreme violence against others.”

Under Cornyn’s legislation, nearly all federally funded schools in the U.S. would be required to install software to surveil students’ online activities, potentially including their emails and searches, in order to flag “violent” or alarming content.

The proposal would significantly expand the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA), a 2000 law that is mostly interpreted today as blocking children from looking up pornography on school computers.

Privacy experts and education groups, many of which have resisted similar efforts at the state level, say that level of social media and network surveillance can discourage children from speaking their minds online and could disproportionately result in punishment against children of color, who already face higher rates of punishment in school.


I get the concern, but I’m not so sure there’s much of a leg to stand on.

You see, the software would only be installed on computers owned by the school itself. They would only monitor traffic on school networks. In other words, it would only apply to school property.

Students who aren’t using the school’s network wouldn’t be subject to the prying eyes of the school system.

Now, that’s not to say there’s no reason for concern. Monitoring student’s social media is bound to be a trainwreck in the making. We’ve already seen how schools can overreact to postings on social media by students who have done nothing wrong, and that’s been without a federal mandate. However, students can also start using their privacy settings and minimize some of that. It would be a good life skill for them to start picking up.

Beyond that, it seems that Cornyn’s proposals are akin to schools being able to search lockers without a warrant. It’s their property, after all. They can kind of do that without students’ permission, nor the parents’.

While privacy advocates may have a point on some of this, they should have voiced these concerns ages ago. I’m afraid that time has long since passed.

Of course, what gets to me is that there’s a degree of hypocrisy here. Take this for example:

“This is all very frightening,” an education policy consultant, who has been tracking the legislation, told The Hill. “There’s no real research, or even anecdotal information, to back up the idea … that following everything [kids] do online is really a way to determine that they’re going to be violent.”


No, there really isn’t.

However, how many people reading this at The Hill and nodding their heads at this paragraph also support red flag laws, which aren’t all that different in their approach? The only difference is who is looking at what. No one really knows if those do any good either, yet those are being pushed by many of the same people opposing this one.

Regardless, privacy concerns may be fair, but unless you’re going to start restraining what schools have already been doing to monitor student activities, I’m afraid you’re not really going to accomplish much of anything.

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