Joey Hart, opinion editor
The other day, I witnessed one of my friends doing something foreign to me. She was taking an online exam for a class, but instead of simply logging on and completing the assessment, she had to allow an internet program access to her webcam, hold up her student ID to the camera and completing the assignment under the eye of anti-cheating surveillance software.
I don’t wear a tinfoil hat on my head, and generally I trust that our school has reasonable people making policy decisions. And that trust stands with this development as well; the operators of this particular program likely intend only to help professors limit cheating.
However, there comes a point in which the positives of the general trend of increased surveillance are not worth the privacy that we are rapidly giving up for it.
We have a technological climate where it’s normal for people to look up your profile on Facebook and instantly know where you’re from and where your work. Snapchat friends can see where you are at any time through the app’s map feature, which came out this year. Other apps, such as Find My Friends, exist for the sole purpose of tracking your contacts.
What’s important to remember is that these developments aren’t the result of a man in a dark room sitting on a big swivel chair and stroking his poodle. They are the result of friends who want to see where the party is, parents that want to know their children are safe and people trying to stay in touch with each other more easily. But we don’t lose personal independence from dramatic, swift policy decisions; we lose it by nickel-and-diming our way out of it with good intentions.
Right now, the school may only use webcam surveillance for exams. But when that becomes the new normal, with another class coming in that will have only known online tests and quizzes that require video monitoring, maybe in five years they could go further. Could they eventually listen in on our conversations through our cell phones? Could they track our location on a night Uptown? Could they monitor our text messages?
Again, these hypotheticals would come to pass not because of an abrupt power grab by university officials, but by well-intentioned parents, faculty and even students in the name of safety and compliance with student code of conduct. The problem is there may come a time when such powers fall in the hands of less reasonable or benign actors at any level of society, in which case, it will be too late to reverse our decisions. The only way to stop that result is to stop the whole process before it gets there, at the cost of a little less security, but with the value of our personal lives staying personal.
Arguing against the trend of increased surveillance and loss of privacy can seem like arguing against gravity, but I urge the school to stop monitoring students through webcams and stop the above process. I won’t put on a tinfoil hat, but I’ll definitely keep a piece of tape over my laptop’s camera lens.