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Young Scholars 2016

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Technological Surveillance

“Looking for Trouble: Technological Surveillance and Mental Health in High Schools”

Problem Statement

The current technical capability to track individuals is unprecedented.  From social media posts to web searches, from cell phone location data to online shopping records, from eBook access to Fitbit activity logs, we are all generating and donating huge amounts of personal information to a large variety of organizations and companies.  

The average individual produces a huge amount of “digital exhaust” every day, but few consider who is saving all of this information, for how long and for what purposes. In most cases, the information belongs to the entity collecting it and once collected the individuals have little or no say over how the data can be used.  Have you thought about what all these pieces of information reveal about you when they are put together? You might be surprised to see how much information is revealed in simple things like your web searches! 

Your Challenge

This year’s Young Scholars will consider the many ways in which this mountain of digital information can be used. Working with Clarkson professors, students will explore motivating examples of the powerful good that can be accomplished with a wide variety of surveillance data as well as powerful examples of the dangers and potential abuses. They will research the details of actual cases of surveillance and the release of “anonymized” data sets that are not truly anonymized. They will also investigate the current state of legal constraints and agreements. They will be tasked with the difficult task of balancing the benefits with the risks in this new age of easy surveillance.

From their research, students will:

  • Develop a hypothetical example of a surveillance system that could be used to identify mental health risks such as suicide, eating disorders or bullying through various means of technological surveillance such as watching for keywords and other patterns in personal web searches, social media posts, text messages, etc.  
  • Consider the benefits of such a system and the potential risks for monitoring teenagers in school. They will propose both how best to use the various types of  data that could be collected, the best way to identify people at risk and what actions could and should be taken in response.
  • Consider the other potential uses of this data once collected including reuse of data for other purposes by the school and the risk that data, once collected, could be accessed by unauthorized parties.
  • Tasked with identifying a set of constraints – technical, legal and societal – to achieve the best aspects of the potential benefits without the worst aspects of the potential risks. 

At the end of the week, the students will present this design, along with arguments for and against deployment in their own high schools, to invited guest panelists.

Helpful Websites on the following topics:

Technological Capabilities

Privacy Resources

Suicide Prevention


Recent Publications

Issues for Teens