Applied Lesson: Surveillance Technology vs. Privacy

The ISA staff had a transformative experience this week when we traveled to the Rio Grande Valley to study the topic of immigration. We met with local law enforcement, border patrol, community activists, elected officials, crisis response volunteers, and federal officials. We encountered many different perspectives regarding border issues. We also spent time with immigrants themselves, who had just crossed the border and received permission for temporary residence while they appeal for asylum.

Now that we have returned, our task is to create a lesson, based on these experiences, for the class we teach. As the technology teacher, I was intrigued by tracking devices issued to the immigrants.

One of the state standards for Digital and Interactive Media reads, “1(H) demonstrate an understanding of legal and ethical responsibilities in relation to the field of information technology”.  The goal of my lesson is for students to take a position on the use of technology by governments to monitor the people within its borders.

In McAllen, Texas, last Monday, I met a young woman named Gina. She was from Honduras, traveling to New Orleans to see her husband, whom she had last seen when their daughter was 2 months old. Her daughter is now 4. A Disney fan who knows how to sing songs from Frozen, the little girl is named after her mother’s favorite character on an MTV reality show.  Mother and daughter moved through the Respite Center together: eating a meal, taking a shower, and receiving donated clothing. Like all the men and women there, Gina wore a security bracelet on her ankle, issued by the US government, which contained a GPS tracking device.

I would like to share this story with my students, and then ask the questions:

  • Does the US have the legal and ethical right to track immigrants with ankle bracelets?
  • In what other ways does government track people, using technology?
  • How does an individual’s right to privacy intersect with the government’s responsibility to keep us safe?
  • Do some people have more right to privacy than others?

Here is the lesson I plan to use in my Digital and Interactive Media Class.

The outcome of this unit will be two-fold: first, each student will create a researched, cited opinion piece about one specific example of the intersection of technology and privacy, and second, each student will write an email to an elected representative about whether the investigated technology should be used by government.

The email exercise allows students to demonstrate a Global Leadership Performance Outcome:

a. Take Action: Act, individually or collaboratively, in creative and responsible ways to contribute to improvement locally, regionally, and/or globally, and assess the impact of the action.

I plan to spend one week on this lesson, as detailed on the final slide of the embedded presentation. I hope this lesson will be an authentic investigation of real-world technology applications, and I look forward to seeing what the students produce.

Borderland Field Work: Conflicting Perspectives

Retreat to the Border, 2015

[Click image to enlarge.]

During the last few days, our faculty had the opportunity to explore the issue of immigration by traveling to the border and hearing from many people with expertise. I recorded over 3400 words worth of notes, and took a few photographs. From my notes, I selected a handful of important quotes (some are paraphrased), which I pasted into an image next to statements that demonstrate a different perspective. I color-coded the quotes and included a key, and then superimposed them on a photograph of one of our rental vans traveling along a major highway in the border region. Despite the conflicts of opinion, every individual we met on our trip showed care and concern for the border people, no matter what their legal status.