Over the past couple of years, I’ve heard middle and high school kids say that they are sick-and-tired of hearing about their digital footprints — with many exclaiming that they already know what they need to know. My thought? They understand how they make digital footprints, but they don’t always make good decisions when it comes to avoiding the not-so-good digital trails.
What older students — those in late middle and high school — need is a reframed conversation, one that does not focus exclusively on what they do, focusing instead on the broad and complex issue of 21st Century privacy.
The Washington Post recently published The New Way Police Are Surveilling You: Calculating Your Threat ‘Score’, which describes how law enforcement agencies are mining “big data,” and specialized public and commercial databases, to collect information on people.
They use advanced software programs to scan through databases that include such non-criminal materials as property records, social media posts, and commercial records, with the purpose of assigning individuals in those databases a “threat score.”
Presumably, only the people with the highest threat scores are individuals whom police are looking for, but the searches go through all of our digital footprints in the various databases. Some police departments have also used the databases to identify people legally protesting in political groups.
This article, and others like it, can be useful tools that depersonalize digital footprint and privacy discussions, while at the same time offering students an opportunity to examine the issues in the context of big-picture societal issues. A secondary benefit of this approach may be that these conversations can help young people develop stronger moral and ethical reasoning skills.