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Boston schools install cameras on every school bus, parents outraged

George Orwell's 1984 has come to Boston, but Big Brother didn't get quite as far as it might have hoped.

This summer, the School Department installed more than 650 cameras with microphones on every school bus in the city. Many parents were outraged and fought back against the surveillance.

Now the School Department says they won't activate the microphones, just the cameras. Students riding the buses will still be recorded, but only the images. Also, signs will be posted around the bus warning children they are being monitored.

The Boston Globe has more:

“If we decide there is value in audio, we will bring the issue before the School Committee and develop a policy to ensure student privacy,” said Lee McGuire, a School Department spokesman.

The famous Equal Protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment reads like this:

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

Judges have consistently held that this clause applies equally to children as to adults. In Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District (1969), judges ruled that the First Amendment protects children's free speech in public schools. However, in subsequent rulings like Bethel School District v. Fraser (1986) and Morse v. Frederick (2007), limits have been placed on free speech for reasons of indecency and obstruction of the educational process. It's a little bit arbitrary.

When it comes to privacy, in 1985 the Supreme Court ruled in New Jersey v. T.L.O. that children in public schools can be searched without warrant when a school official has reasonable suspicion a student has broken a law or a school rule.

If the Boston School Department went forward with this strategy, it's unclear whether it would be constitutional. Obviously they don't need a warrant for this kind of surveillance; however, they don't have probable cause to listen in on every single student.

What do you think? Is it really OK to record every student - even with only a camera? Let me know with a comment.

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