Wednesday, September 24, 2014

#hsvboe...Anything "some students" say on Social Media can, and will be, used against them

National Security Agency.svg
Seal of the National Security Agency

I have a ritual to help me decide the topic of my daily blog post.  First, I log on to my blog and scroll down the blog roll.  Then I log on to Facebook, followed by Twitter,  and lastly,

What I saw posted in the Alabama Today section about HCS Superintendent Casey WARdynski   made my Eyes get bigger,  the hair on the back of my neck stand up, and had me pacing the floor muttering expletives. 
A secret program to monitor students' online activities began quietly in Huntsville schools, following a phone call from the NSA, school officials say.
Huntsville schools Superintendent Casey Wardynski says the system began monitoring social media sites 18 months ago, after the National Security Agency tipped the school district to a student making violent threats on Facebook.
There are so many things wrong here I don't know where to start, so I guess I will start by saying Freedom isn't Free.

Since the inception of the Patriot Act and the revelations of warrant less surveillance, I've long held Big Brother  is watching every move we make, but like a good citizen I adopted the if you aren't doing anything wrong you don't have anything to worry about meme.  To my knowledge, expressing opinions via social media, blogs or forums is not against the law.  I falsely assumed we had this little thingy called freedom of speech in the United States of America, and anything we said in these forums couldn't/wouldn't be used against us.   Wrong.
Regardless of how the program started, Huntsville City Schools began scanning Facebook and other sites for signs of gang activity, watching for photos of guns, photos of gang signs and threats of violence.
This superintendent is consumed with the idea of gangs and considers himself an expert.
The four students from Lee High School who filmed a fight in a school bathroom and posted the video to YouTube did so as a gang initiation, Huntsville's superintendent said.
Dr. Casey Wardynski said the fight, which came to light Jan. 20 after the video went viral, wasn't an ordinary skirmish between students. 

"It was a gang initiation; these students went to lunch together afterward," Wardynski said.
 The superintendent said there is zero tolerance in the district for gang activity.
"There will be no gangs in our schools," Wardynski said.
Gang is the new Black 
When asked at a community meeting why students in north Huntsville are required to wear school uniforms,  in a rare moment of candor the superintendent said that was the only way school administrators could tell the gang members from students.
Here's the school district's explanation of how the program got started:
About a year and half ago, Wardynski said, the NSA called Huntsville and reported a high school student had threatened on Facebook to injure a teacher.
Al Lankford, the city's longtime school security officer, told that he took the NSA phone call. He said security officers went to the high school and eventually searched the boy's car.
Huntsville City Schools
"We found a very good size knife and the student was expelled," said Wardynski, a former U.S. Army colonel appointed as superintendent in Huntsville in 2011.
Big Brother isn't coming, he's already here.
Why was the NSA watching what this student posted on facebook?  The above article says the knife was found in his car but that's not what the initial news reports said.
 A Huntsville City Schools spokesperson said security workers found a knife and gun in a student’s possession Monday at Butler High School.
Additional search procedures were implemented, and no other prohibited items were found.  The male student was charged with two Class III violations of the Huntsville City Schools Student Code of Conduct.
So which one is it, was the knife found in his car (perfectly legal), or in his possession?
The NSA is focused on foreign intelligence. Vines said any information about a domestic safety issue would be sent to another federal agency, like the FBI. "Moreover, NSA does not make recommendations regarding school safety programs," said Vines via email.
"There was a foreign connection," said Wardynski, explaining why the NSA would contact Huntsville schools. He said the student in Huntsville had made the online threats while chatting online with a group that included an individual in Yemen.

There is just one little problem with this scenario...the NSA denies they contacted Huntsville City Schools .
NSA did not acknowledge placing such a call. "The National Security Agency has no record that it passed any information to the Huntsville school district, and the description of what supposedly occurred is inconsistent with NSA's practices," said Vanee Vines, public affairs specialist with the NSA, on Monday.
The NSA is focused on foreign intelligence. Vines said any information about a domestic safety issue would be sent to another federal agency, like the FBI. "Moreover, NSA does not make recommendations regarding school safety programs," said Vines via email.
So who are you going to believe Casey Wardynski, or the NSA?  I'll take the NSA for 100 Alex.
 Board members Topper Birney and Laurie McCaulley, contacted for this story last week, said they were unaware of the monitoring program and the board was not briefed. The city system web site contains no operational information on SAFe, but displays a logo and lists three staff members. Those include two security officers and consultant Chris McRae.
What did BOE members know and when did they know it?
I can understand the weakest links Birney and McCaulley) not having a clue about this program, but what about David Blair, Dr. Jeannie Robinson, and Mike Culbreath?  Did they know?  Did they authorize the hiring of a full time staff to do nothing but investigate what students and other private citizens do online ?
There is disagreement on the Huntsville school board about whether or not Superintendent Casey Wardynski informed board members that the district had begun secretly monitoring student activity on social media.
Psst! The key word here is SECRETLY.  If you tell people what's going on it's not a secret.
Both Blair and McCaulley voiced concerns about the information provided to and the subsequent media attention the program is receiving.
Blair said students intending to do harm at school might be less likely to put information about their intentions online if they know the district is watching.
"This kind of stuff puts kids in danger," Blair said.
McCaulley said that whoever leaked the security presentation to the media may have broken Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) laws because the presentation included pictures of students.
She said, however, that the program itself has worked by letting the district know about students who may have been planning something dangerous on campus. The documents obtained by showed pictures of four different students posing on Facebook with handguns.
Three of those students were subsequently expelled and the fourth was referred for counseling.  
"This is a program that works to save kids," McCaulley said
Preemptive Strike!
Are they out of their cotton picking minds?  Do they honestly believe this program has saved kids?  Saved them from whom?  Saved them from what?  Expelling students who may (or may not) have been planning something dangerous and referring the counseling isn't helping them, or anybody else.   And why weren't parents notified of any potential threats of violence?

Although this information is just hitting the fan, it's not new.  CaseyWardynski is doing the job he was hired to do. 
Casey you have to break the mold and prove you're not afraid of minorities, democrats, liberals, aclu (sic) types and the entire entitlement crowd! Do that, and you'll be doing the job you were hired to do! Oh yeah, not to mention striking down all racial transfers. And that includes allowing not allowing whites to racially transfer either. If you don't like where your child goes to school, move to where they can be zoned into a school of your preference, that's what I had to do!
The Alabama ACLU asked Huntsville City Schools about their social media policy  three months ago.
The American Civil Liberties Union wants to know if Huntsville City Schools is snooping on students.
The group published an open letter (PDF) to Superintendent Dr. Casey Wardynski Tuesday, which includes a public records request for information on any disciplinary actions taken against students based on their social media activities.
The ACLU said other schools around the country are punishing students for comments made on social media critical of schools, even if the comments are made after school hours on private property.
There is no indication of any specific complaints against Huntsville City Schools at the present time.
Tuesday afternoon, WAFF also mailed a public records request for the same information. We will keep you updated on how the district responds.
The letter said the program can constitute a students right to privacy and freedom of expression online.  It also said suspensions and expulsions are often meted out in a disproportionate manner that negatively impacts student of color.  Look at the pictures presented in the article and you will see this to be true.

It ought to be against the law to lie to taxpayers
Someone is lying about the origins of a secret student social media monitoring program started by the Huntsville City Schools and "needs to lose his job," a national First Amendment expert said today.
"Lying to the public should be a firing offense," according to Frank LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center in Washington.
Lying to the public is par for the course in Huntsville City Schools, and if that doesn't work, blame it on the black guy.
There's a third possibility, U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Huntsville) said today. "The school system is telling the truth as they understand it," but the call "could have been anybody, misrepresenting their status."
"If there is proof that the NSA actually made the phone call," Brooks said, "it would behoove the Congress to ascertain whether the NSA has a program consistent with that phone call."
To start an inquiry, Brooks said he'd need the name of the person who called and that person's phone number, "If he's keeping good records, he should have that phone number and that name," Brooks said of schools' security officer Al Lankford.
 Why the Pinnacle Hypocrisy matters:
Wardynski said the city used the SAFe program to break up a gang called the Wolfpack, with six or seven members -- all related to each other through family -- in various schools. The students were expelled and placed in alternative school and boot camp programs.
"People are very good about 'If you see something, say something,'" said Wardynski.
Wardysnki said the monitoring program is limited to threats against schools, and students are expelled from neighborhood schools and placed into alternative programs. Asked if school officials are also searching online for photos of alcohol, drugs and sex, Wardynski said: "None of that."
One of the many, many, things wrong with the Pinnacle Policy is the denial of students right to equal protection under the  law and due process.  I turn the floor over to The Mertz Center Monitor.

To be continued.....


Anonymous said...

If something is posted on Facebook Twitter etc then I see no wrong doing if the school looks at the post. It is there for "ALL" to see anyway. If this saves the lives of kids then do it! The kid who had the gun had no reason to have a gun at school and with all these school shootings I am glad they found the gun before he did anything with it! You DON'T bring a gun to school unless your the police or a teacher in states where they are allowed to carry.

Redeye said...

What kid bought and gun to school? When did they find a gun at school?
What kids lives have been saved as a result of this program?

Brian said...

First, Darayl, the kid didn't bring a gun on to school grounds. They found a large knife in his car.

Second, Redeye, the NSA wasn't monitoring the kid specifically, but the kid made the comment on the page of a Yemen citizen that the NSA was monitoring. Or at least that is the story that they are feeding us.

But I would not be surprised to hear that NSA is monitoring facebook. They are charter to act both domestically and internationally. I know they are monitoring the metadata of everybody's cell phone calls (who you called and how long you talked). I do believe that they have been monitoring internet traffic for select key words. I don't like it, but I accept it under the idea that it makes us safer.

In this case, I do think HCS has overstepped their boundaries. Kids do stupid things, it doesn't mean they are in a gang. The gun they are posing with could be a realistic looking BB or Airsoft gun.

Redeye said...

First, Brian, Wardynski said the NSA was monitoring the facebook account because the student was chatting with someone IN Yeman. Then Wardynski said the NSA was monitoring a students Twitter account because he had relatives in Yeman on the terrorist watch list. So which one is it...facebook or twitter? Was the student chatting online with someone IN Yeman or someone FROM Yeman, with relatives on the terrorist watch list? How would Wardynski know who is on the terrorist watch list?
As I said I'm pretty sure Big Brother, including Wardynski, are monitoring me too, but like I said, I'm not worried about it because I'm not doing anything wrong. But that doesn't mean they can't or won't take something I say out of context and use it against me.
9/11 changed everything. We went from being the land of the free and the home of the brave, to the land of the scared and the terrorized. *sigh*

Redeye said...

PS, Who knew it was against the law to have a large knife in your car?

Brian said...

I believe it's part of the code of conduct that students sign. Not against the law per se and I don't think the student should have been penalized for something that was in his car.

I do think Wardynski and HCS went over the line.

Redeye said...

Not only was the student penalized for something that was in their car, HCS would have never known it was in their car if they hadn't been spying on them. Do you understand the problem now?