SILICON LOUNGE: Wired Big Brothers to Invade, Profit Off Schools
A software application can predict which kids will explode in violence. At least that's what a California security firm would like to sell us.I'm not buying it.But the federal government is, as are 20 U.S. schools. Mosaic-2000, software to rank potentially violent kids on a scale of 1 to 10, will debut in test schools in December. "The New York Times" reported that the application is meant to predict deadly rampages such as Columbine.California security and private-investigations firm, Gavin de Becker Inc., developed the application. Although the Times called it a "private software company," the company's Web site, www.gdbinc.com, says it specializes in security for big-name stars -- some so huge they can't be named-- as well as consults with government agencies such as the Central Intelligence Agency. Gulp.Mosaic-2000 is said to emulate the high-tech way the company predicts potential threats to government officials or Supreme Court justices by crunching known risk factors of certain individuals and groups. The Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms asked the company to tailor the grown-up version to ferret out potential high-school criminals. (Are you confused, yet, about what this company might know about teenagers?)Groovy. So we're going to make schools safer by treating teens like potential criminals? This is only one more, albeit large and federally blessed, step toward an outright attack on our nations' youth. Why don't we invoke martial law on school campuses and be done with it?It gets better. "It's a wonderful tool... and I hope it's properly used by the schools," BATF Associate Director Andrew Vita told the Times. He (ital)hopes(/ital)? So the drug-and-gun Feds are going to drop risk-assessment software into untrained academic laps -- and (ital)hope(/ital) they don't somehow manage to use the software to abuse kids' rights?!Hallowed administrators would never do that -- ask the kid in Alabama targeted for wearing a Star of David, the Colorado Springs kid ejected for bringing suspicious-looking organic lemon drops to school, all the "outsider" kids asked not to return to Columbine after the murders -- or the multitudes of U.S. kids being branded for listening to certain music, wearing black trenchcoats or Raiders jackets, or having a tattoo or nose ring.Vita in the Times: "It's easy to pick out the gang members with the tattoos." Ahem. "It's these other people that kind of surprise administrators, and these are the ones they really need to identify."So, Feds, just how will this computer marvel identify the monsters in our midst? Apparently, the schools only will target kids they already believe are causes for concern (didn't that biased approach just defeat the purpose?). They then will feed info about the kids into the program -- do they abuse animals? do they display alarming behavior or talk? do they have access to guns? -- and, voila!, rank the teens on a 1-to-10 prone-to-violence scale.Then the administrators can arm themselves with "results" to get help from parents and specialists (and good PR), probably prioritizing the riskiest ones first, trying to banish them from the schools to "protect" other kids, and the district themselves from lawsuits. (All the while, I suppose, the BATF grabs the gun info for their own motives.)Look, I don't want kids with guns or the NRA in the schools, either. But, this business plan makes marketing Pepsi in the schools look like a second-grade lemonade stand. The public must demand answers: What criteria will determine which kids are "cause for concern"? Will the information be confidential? Will the BATF use the profiles to prompt gun raids on adults (if that's a goal, state it)? Who will own the data? Can the company sell it?What role do parents play? What happens if a parent doesn't agree with the recommendation? How many lawsuits against school districts will result? Will the Feds pay attorney fees? And, most important, will shattering the privacy of kids halt (the decreasing) violence among teens?Stay alert. The last thing we need is a California private-dick firm teaming up with the Feds and scared school officials to run a profitable CIA operation in our schools. Talk about terrifying. E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.