• Bethel Public Schools New Online Alert System, Lightspeed, Raises Data Privacy Concerns

    Screenshot, Bethel High School.

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    Bethel Public Schools notified parents that it plans on implementing Lightspeed Systems to provide a "safe" digital learning environment for students through the adoption of Lightspeed Filter, Classroom and Alert.

    Lightspeed, an artificial intelligence-based threat detection system, monitors all online activity for students while they are logged into their district account in order to determine if there are any signs of self-harm, violence or potential bullying. That means wherever a student logs into their school Google account, whether it's on a school computer or on a personal device or even a cell phone, Lightspeed will be monitoring the activity.

    Parents were cautioned that if a student does not log out of their school account on a shared family computer, for instance, it will pick up all activity and/or any searches or content the individual may be looking at, and subsequently notify building and district administrators of the nature of those searches.

    Okay, Big Brother!

    Lightspeed works by scanning school Google accounts for "concerning words or phrases" and then sends real-time notifications to Lightspeed Alert safety specialists. The safety specialists evaluate all alerts, conduct threat assessments, and escalate issues to appropriate district administrative personnel and/or law enforcement when necessary.  

    The Director of Instructional Technology, Donna Burns, said that the school plans on addressing "general" alerts during the school day. However, if an imminent threat is received after 9pm, it will get forwarded directly to the Central Office Administration and/or the Bethel Police Department.

    Lightspeed can be used to protect students from exposure to harmful content and safety threats online, and agents can even scan images for violence, weapons, nudity/CSAM, and explicit content. Of course, considering the vast differences in opinions on the topic of school library pornography these days, the definition of "harmful" seems like an important omission from Burns' email.

    After all, who is the judge of what is "harmful" or "concerning student behavior"? Lightspeed or Bethel Public Schools? Would searching for puberty blockers be considered harmful in light of the irreversible damage they cause? Would sharing the new song, "Try that in a Small Town", trigger an alert? What about saying "the 2020 election was stolen"? Would that set off alarm bells?

    Screenshot, Lightspeed Systems

    The software can also be used to address "worrisome trends and threatening or concerning behaviors" in order to help prevent targeted violence at schools. Sounds sort of like the Pre-Crime Unit in The Minority Report, doesn't it?

    Lightspeed can even create historical student activity timelines with full URLs and time-stamps for every single page that a student ever visited while logged into their school account. Better be careful with your clicks!

    The company's COPPA Notice reveals its practices concerning the collection, use, and disclosure of personal information from children under the age of 13.

    Student personal information including account and contact information, user name, email address, district name, grade level, classroom, group, and parents/guardians may be collected. Additionally, Lightspeed captures information about the student's school-managed account and device settings, a student's online activity (which could include chats, video conferencing recordings, IP address, browsing history, search history, application usage, online content viewed), and the geographic location of any device logged into a school account.

    Lightspeed says it uses personal information to provide its service, to communicate with schools and to facilitate registration for related services, among other things. It may also use, transfer, and disclose non-personal information (information that does not, on its own, permit direct association with students’ identities) for any lawful purpose. It will not, however, use personally identifiable student information to target advertisements or market to students or anyone else, to amass a profile about a student for a non-educational purpose, or for any purposes prohibited by the Family Educational and Privacy Rights Act (“FERPA”) or applicable state law.

    The company may share student personal information with businesses or third parties with which it is affiliated to facilitate a transaction or service, including agents or service providers that act on Lightspeed's behalf, as well as parents, teachers, administrators, guardians, law enforcement, first responders, and state or federal reporting agencies.

    No wonder Bethel parents are concerned about data privacy with this new system.

    By the way, the Lightspeed system is already being used at other public schools in Connecticut, including Wethersfield, Ellington, Westbrook, Region 12 and Groton.

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