A national digital privacy think tank said the Pasco, Fla., Sheriff’s Office and schools must immediately change a program that uses student data to ID potential future criminals to comply with federal law.
(TNS) — A national digital privacy think tank said the Pasco, Fla., Sheriff’s Office and
“The Sheriff’s Office’s current data practices violate not only its contract with the school board but also the privacy protections required by the federal education privacy law,” the Future of
The organization called for increased transparency, additional training and proactive steps from school administrators to mitigate legal and ethical issues.
“It’s tough because school administrators try to balance their relationship to keep students safe,” said
“But when this involves students and the community and their information being shared, there should be some scrutiny and transparency.”
The review, which examined Sheriff’s Office and school district records, was conducted over several weeks. It was spurred by a
[Read: Pasco’s sheriff uses grades and abuse histories to label schoolchildren potential criminals.]
Parents and students are not told if they are added to the list. The Sheriff’s Office said 420 children were on the list as of November.
The school district didn’t comment on the new legal analysis and its findings.
The Sheriff’s Office said it “continues to stand by this program that keeps students safe.”
“We again extend the offer for any group to reach out to the Sheriff’s
The Sheriff’s Office has said that the at-risk youth program is only used to build positive relationships with students in need. But the Future of
The “manual characterizes the students identified as students at risk of becoming ‘prolific offenders’ and ‘destined to a life of crime’ — which communicates a very different message to the officers tasked with enacting the program,” the analysis said.
The analysis also found that the Sheriff’s Office’s descriptions of student-data use appear to “fundamentally misinterpret” and “violate” federal law.
For example, the agency has said it uses attendance records for criminal investigations or to conduct truancy checks. That is illegal without parental consent, according to the analysis.
The analysis also challenges a major defense from the Sheriff’s Office and school district: that data sharing is necessary to prevent another tragedy like the shooting at
Schools have been encouraged to share information when a specific threat or emergency has been identified. But because the records used for the at-risk list are continually shared with the Sheriff’s Office, the analysis says “it cannot be credibly argued” that the records are shared only in response to a specific threat.
The Future of
Late Friday, the school district published a long 712-word post on Facebook to “set the record straight.” In the post, the district defended the data sharing and said it believed some parents had confused two Sheriff’s Office intelligence programs that have been the subject of recent
That initiative and the program that uses student data are both part of the agency’s intelligence-led policing division and were detailed in an 82-page internal manual obtained by the
[Read: All of our coverage on the
In the comments below the Facebook post, some people thanked the school district for its efforts to keep students safe. But far more people were critical of the program.
“It is completely unethical!” one person wrote. “It needs to be stopped along with the PSO’s other lists they have compiled.”
“This is so wrong on so many levels,” wrote another. “You are profiling children and not even telling the parents. How dare you do this without any type of written consent?”
In its report, the Future of
First, it called for increased transparency. Parents and students need to be able access their own records and correct any incorrect information, it said.
It was “concerning to see some school administrators weren’t really answering questions,” Reddy said.
The Future of
Finally, the group called for robust student privacy training. It said that some data sharing will always exist but federal law has clear protections for students and parents.
School resource officers “must understand and be held accountable for the role they play in protecting student data,” the report said.
The Sheriff’s Office’s full response to the legal analysis:
The Pasco Sheriff’s Office continues to stand by this program that keeps students safe. We again extend the offer for any group to reach out to the Sheriff’s
To note, the Pasco Sheriff’s Office only receives from the School District’s Early Warning System if a student is off track or at-risk, which does not include grades, attendance or demographic information, and then compares that with law enforcement reports.
To be clear, this at-risk program is in no way predictive policing, but instead focuses on building positive relationships with students to produce positive outcomes, reduce victimization, mental health and substance abuse, and reduce recidivism, if a student has previously committed a crime. This same program has been continually called for in light of the Parkland shooting, including as recently as the Grand Jury report released this month, and is an important part of breaking down silos of information.
In fact, the Pasco Sheriff’s Office has employed an organizational philosophy of Intelligence Led Policing for ten years. Let us again note that this is a philosophy, not a program, that drives what we do as an agency by relying on a data-driven approach, as is common throughout law enforcement, to best allocate resources to keep our community safe.
Far from being “uncovered” in this investigation, we have openly discussed this philosophy with our community over the last decade and we celebrated the successes in crime reduction for a decade, while also celebrating positive outcomes.
Unfortunately, despite being provided this information numerous times, the
We will not apologize for reducing crime in our community and keeping our children safe. It is unfortunate to see these programs and the continued successes of keeping children safe and reducing crime in our community appear to be advocated against by the
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