Nothing scares me more as a parent than worrying about my son's safety when he's out in the world. The sad and scary truth is dangerous situations can pop up anywhere, even at school. That's why it's important that school districts respond quickly to credible threats. But, what about the fake threats? One school district in Alabama has been spying on its students for the past 18 months because of a phone call it received from the NSA. The only problem is the NSA says the call never happened.
Huntsville schools Superintendent Casey Wardynski says the school got a phone call from the NSA saying one of its students made threats online to harm a teacher. The school then checked the student's car and found a large knife and promptly expelled him. That sounds like a disaster averted, but an NSA spokesperson says the call never happened.
Vanee Vines, public affairs specialist with the NSA, said: '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."
Now the school district is in hot water because it used that first incident to justify a large-scale spying program to keep track of students online.
For 18 months, the school district has been monitoring students' social media account under its Students Against Fear program, or SAFe.
[Wardynski] insisted the focus is on gangs, threats of violence and threats of suicide. Security officials can contact city police, refer students for discipline or call in mental health services in they feel there is the need.
Since the program began, the district has expelled three more students and another one is in counseling because of photos on Facebook that showed them holding guns. The superintendent also claims SAFe helped the district break up a gang called the Wolfpack.
I support schools doing all they can to keep students and teachers safe, but this program does raise some privacy questions because most of the photos showed students off school grounds. Hopefully, the program was undertaken with parents' permission. I know I would want my son's school to communicate with me if they wanted to monitor his after school activities, especially if there is a credible safety threat.
The story also exposes another big threat to privacy that's very common today - government hoaxes. There are a lot of people out there pretending to be authority figures so they can steal your personal information or money. Click here to learn more about the bogus IRS calls that you have to watch out for.