My 12-year-old daughter attends a large secondary school in Nottingham. Like a lot of state schools it makes extensive use of information technology. It wouldn't be possible for a student to study without using the school's network, if only for downloading homework assignments. This week I had to sign an 'agreement' that my daughter be able to use the school's IT system on the understanding that she/we agree to the school monitoring the following:
- all emails sent and received
- whether emails have attachments, and the content of those attachments
- what time students log on and for how long
- what websites are visited and for how long
- when files were created, edited and deleted, by whom, and the contents of those files
- what terms were typed into search engines like Google
- what websites are visited, by whom and for how long for
The list continues, at length, but you get the idea. Now I can see the argument for this; that the school needs to guard against on-line abuse, cyber-bullying etc. But the effect of this type of thing is that we're raising a generation of children who are used to being spied on; who think it's normal and who are told by the adult world that it's for their own good, to keep them safe.
In the same week I read in a national newspaper about the latest step in the Britain's ever-enlarging surveillence state: plans to make everyone who leaves the country, for whatever reason and for however long, to register their trip with the government, to tell the state authorities where they're going, for how long and why. Failure to do so will be a criminal offence. This is unprecedented in any democratic nation. Why does the state feel the need to follow my movements in this way? For my own good? To keep me safe?