Security systems and trust

Sometimes, little local stories give us the best insight into what living in a surveillance society is really like. This one is from a school in Virginia, USA. According to the local newspaper (via BoingBoing) a middle school student was suspended from school for opening the main door for a women who they knew who was unable to press the entry button because they had their hands full. The reason given by the school auhtorities is that the school has a secure entry system, in which people are supposed to press the entry button, look into a camera, and request entry. The student was suspended on the grounds that they were all supposed to know the rules, and that these rules were potentially of vital importance.

However this security-bureaucratic reasoning misses the key point that the child knew the adult concerned. Whilst security and surveillance systems are at least in part designed to respond to a supposed decline in social trust and an inceased ‘threat’ (which is very poorly supported by evidence anyway), there is good reason to suppose that placing what were previously matters of social negotiation into the hands of such ‘systems’, ‘rules’ and ‘technology’ further damages social trust.

Many questions then arise: what is this school, through this action and these systems, teaching kids about society? That security comes above all else? That no-one can be trusted? And that individual decision-making or social interaction is better replaced by impersonal systems? Surely, if education is the basis of the future of society, then what should be taught are the opposite lessons. This kind of subordination to systems is a form of training, of disciplinary control, not learning and education.


School Surveillance

No-one could have failed to notice the gradual infiltration of security and surveillance technologies and practices into schools throughout the industrialised word. Of course, schools have always been sorting mechanisms (as Foucault pointed out), but the use of high-tech scanning systems at entrances, cameras in classrooms, RFID for library books and even meals, point to not just a justifiable concern with the safety of kids (and staff) but a combination of commercial pressure and paranoia.

My friend and colleague, Torin Monahan from Vanderbilt University in Nashville, has a new edited collection out on this very topic with Rodolfo Torres. Schools under Surveillance has a range of contributors, most of whom it is good to see are not the usual Surveillance Studies suspects. His local paper, The Tennessean did a story on the book, which notes Torin, has generated “a lot of crazy blowback” from bloggers in particular School surveillance is a sensitive topic which needs careful consideration, and it’s a shame some people can’t discuss these issues without such stupidity.