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Cyber Protection: A Basic Right

by Miguel Guhlin

Schools are laden with video surveillance cameras. Their goal is to protect children, but the effect is often the opposite. Video surveillance provides insight into what happened but doesn’t necessarily prevent it. Encryption prevents bad things from happening. Why not empower students and staff with knowledge?

The Problem with Schools and Encryption

Schools don’t often teach encryption to students and staff because it may be inconvenient. Those tasked with people and technology management have to work harder. Yet, in my experience, encryption is a critical pillar of digital citizenship. We must teach not only to protect our privacy settings but our data. And in doing so, learn the value of holding others accountable. Let’s explore how.

[Encryption] matters for children because while it protects their data and right to privacy and freedom of expression, it also impedes efforts to monitor and remove child sexual abuse materials and to identify offenders attempting to exploit children online (source).

Protect: An Essential Element

Dr. Ribble outlines essential elements of digital citizenship in this ISTE.org article. He highlights nine elements, of which one is Protect. In that overview of Protect element, he writes:

  • Digital rights and responsibilities. Students must understand their basic digital rights to privacy, and freedom of speech.
  • Digital safety and security. Digital citizens need to know how to safeguard their information (source).

At a session during the Google Summer Camp 2022, participants expressed their appreciation. They had no idea how to encrypt their own data for protection or how to send encrypted emails. But a minority of attendees questioned whether school staff (teachers, clerks) should know.

Encryption: A Basic Right?

Some argue that encryption is a basic right. It is more indispensable today than ever before. They write:

Studies show that access to encrypted communications is a human rights issue. End-to-end encryption make your messages…unintelligible…to snoops and interlopers. [They] can’t access what you’re saying—and neither can the company that offers the platform. People who once thought they had nothing to hide may realize that era is now over (source).

Who is to teach students and staff how to safeguard sensitive data if not schools? It would be easy to introduce it as a part of mandated digital citizenship training.

By taking the time to carefully communicate with staff and students the importance of protecting private data, you can minimize the threat of breaches and unauthorized access (source).

Preemptive Protection

We want our children and staff in schools to learn encryption. They must know how to protect themselves. Why do we avoid encryption instruction when we teach digital citizenship? The answer to that question reveals something about schools today.

Without encryption, none of us has a chance to enjoy limited privacy. Encryption is one of the tools we must have at our disposal. It’s also useful to companies, even though they make a living by mining our information. Encryption is as essential for the rest of us. (adapted from source).

Our schools have a thousand eyes, watching for danger. Yet surveillance cameras only show us what happens AFTER bad things occur. Encryption can prevent them BEFORE they do.

TCEA offers the online, self-paced Data Guardian course. Learn how to safeguard sensitive data in your school district. You will learn about why it is important to secure data, how to encrypt it, how to protect your passwords. You will learn the best ways to secure your data and device(s) as well as what you put in the cloud. Sign up now.

Tips to Share

Here is a short list of tips you can share with students and staff. You can find a plethora of suggestions online. CommonSense.org offers a wide variety of lessons for students. ClassTime.org offers five tips for teachers to protect student data. You can read past TCEA blog entries with tips for schools on safeguarding sensitive data.

There is plenty of data, research, and tips. What are you doing to empower children and staff with encryption?

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