Eight WA High Schools Use Cyber Spy Program Which Homes In On ‘Early Warning Markers’ For Students

from Perth Now

SUICIDAL thoughts and depression, viewing pornography and searches to buy or sell drugs are the most common incidents detected by a global online program used by eight WA high schools to monitor the computer use of about 9000 students.

The WA schools have signed up to UK-based company eSafe Global’s software, which homes in on “early warning markers” — tens of thousands of “red flag” words, phrases, abbreviations, euphemisms and colloquialisms — typed or searched for by students from Year 7-12.

In the past two years, more than 8000 incidents were identified by “behaviour specialists” in the UK and deemed legitimate for intervention.

By far the most prevalent has been students’ mental health — anxiety, depression and self-harm risk — at 38 per cent of all identified incidents last year followed by pornography (20 per cent) and drugs (11 per cent).

More here.

Posted in Education, Technology and tagged , , .


  1. This is an interesting idea to think about. On one hand you have some people who think the cyber spy program is a necessity for students, then there are some people who think that it is a violation of privacy. This is some of the opinions of millions of people in the United States today, but there is not going to be a clear answer to this problem. This is a great idea to identify suspicious activity in a potential school shooting, or to quickly identify someone who is at risk of harming themselves. Since we have had so many school shootings, the thought of someone looking up gun tips in school is pretty unlikely, but in any case it is a risk we have to take if we are going to nip these risks in the bud. On the heels of these shootings, this is a topic that should come up more in discussions about things like gun control, because if you get rid of these problems before they even arise, there is no need to have a conversation about gun control when it come to schools. If there is a suicide risk and if people start looking up ways to commit suicide, than there is absolutely a need for this cyber monitoring program. These are topics where the introduction of this program could potentially save lives and eliminate the risk of these tragedies happening.

    Then comes the idea that this is a violation of privacy. People are already uncomfortable with the NSA supposedly watching us through the cameras in our computers and phones, so the introduction of this in schools can make them feel even more uneasy. Students in school already feel like they can have their privacy taken away already, so why actually make that the case with them. Should they be looking up stupid things on the internet? It depends on how stupid the thing is, but as said earlier, it is highly unlikely that a student would look up something that severe on an open network with teachers monitoring them, surely the students would point it out if it were serious. I personally think this cyber program is a great idea as it can prevent students from looking up things that can get them in trouble and it can keep them on task for what they are doing in the class.

  2. The eSafe program is a very interesting one that is sweeping the state of Washington. 8 schools have so far signed up for the program that monitors their student’s online activity through their computers. The program is designed with safe words that trigger a red flag if the student is searching them. The program is to help keep the students safe before anything happens to them. Tis program is interesting because they are able to track anything you do online do keep you safe but if it were me that was the student it would give me a little bit of an uneasy feeling. The program clearly isn’t to spy on the student’s online activity but at the same kind it is but only for the right reasons. With everything that has happened recently in schools and the things that have happened in the past in schools it is good to try and identify the problem before it happens. Kids should feel safe in school and with recent school shootings like the one in Parkland Florida this tool could potentially save lives if something suspicious is detected online. People go to the internet for any question and a student could be planning something destructive and use the internet as a guide but the plan will not be very successful if it is stopped by the school before it happens. This could end up being very useful and help save people’s lives from either an attack. Not just will it help with school safety but it will help keep some kids safe from themselves. Suicide has become a problem with kids in their teens recently and this program can pick out the safe words and alert the school to get the student some help. Or stop the events that lead to suicide like bullying. The schools want to be safe environment where the kids do not have to worry about anything.
    On the other hand, I can see where this becomes a little bit of an invasion of privacy. Kids do stupid things and sometimes search things that can be considered red flag worthy but really is not. They say in the article that this is not like big brother but in reality it kind of is. They are looking at what kids are searching to identify a threat to the school or the students. The thing that makes this so interesting is that it is for a good cause. Big brother idea was for a good cause too but in the end it still is an invasion of privacy. I personally wouldn’t want the school to see everything that I search because of the fact it gives an uneasy feeling knowing that someone can see every move I make on the internet. I think the school understands that and that is why they offer a parent opt-out clause. Parents at any time can opt their student out so their internet use is no longer under the surveillance of the school. Some people may feel that this is an invasion of privacy ad want their kid out of this program, but I also think that many people understand and value this program and will keep their student in to keep them safe from violence

  3. What the high schools in Western Australia are doing to monitor students’ behaviors through searches on their laptops is intriguing, but difficult to implement successfully here in the United States, in my opinion. It is easy to see the positives of a system like this because if successful, it can be an effective way to point out potential mental problems in students before they arise. It is also interesting how the students and their parents are made fully aware of the program’s policies and intentions beforehand, and can opt-out of them at any time, making it effective in the sense that the students’ expectation of privacy is not entirely violated. A successful implementation of this program could save high school students from a life ridden by mental illness and protect other students from falling victim to violence of mentally ill students. Also, the fact that detected incidents in Australia dropped nearly one-third last year from the previous year shows that this system has been proved effective before.

    A program like this can only be successful, however, if the data is being used solely for the purpose of identifying potential causes of mental illness and protecting students at risk of violence, and nothing else. The data and search histories that do not relate to the probes should be ignored entirely to ensure that personal data is being kept private. In other words, data should only be gathered when the “red flag” words are detected, not for every single topic searched for. The intention of saving students from harm is noble, but the risk to use the irrelevant personal data without the students’ consent is plausible. This is one potential negative effect of the system.

    Personally, I think a system like this would be harder to pull off in the United States. The societal dynamics of Australia and the United States are just too different from each other. A system like this might be easy to implement in Australia, where rates of happiness are high, but not necessarily in the United States, where teenagers are at a higher risk of contracting mental illness. The idea of the system is good, in that it has the ability to detect mental illness in children before major problems arise. It seems to me, however, that it is much easier said than done in the United States.

  4. Technology has advanced so much over the years. Technology has the ability to connect people vastly and has helped people learn about a multitude of things at just a click of a mouse. Unfortunately the internet could expose youth to cyber bullying and other horrible things. It is important that children get then proper supervision that they need so that they do no lead themselves down a path of destruction. Cyber bullying has been known to affect children in ways that can lead to them feeling like they have no way out. This is a very serious problem that can be solved by supervising what happens on social media so that these attackers could face their punishment and many children would not feel like they are helpless when it comes to being bullied on the internet. Even though the internet can be a very efficient tool without supervision it can be corruptible. Children need Adults because without proper guidance they would not know what is safe and what can cause harm. Pornography has been known to corrupt people psychologically and even shrink the human brain. It is important that parents know what their children are viewing online for the sake of their children’s mental health. There are also many Predators on line waiting for children to harm on social media and even in some phone apps. The internet is a very dangerous place and intervention is needed for the protection of the health and well being of children.
    A child’s youth should be a happy time filled with imagination learning experiences and good memories and should not be tarnished by the dangers that could be exposed to them on-line. This software is invasive it is invasive for the right reasons. E Safe Global software is a step in the right direction for diminishing cyber bullying and protecting children. This software can save the lives of many children and prevent bad things from happening before it is too late.

  5. Right off the bat after reading this article, I first thought to myself the good in all the crimes they may have saved. But immediately thinking about it, thought how this is utterly an invasion of privacy. I understand the purpose behind why schools are doing this, out of concern for everyone’s safety, and in hopes of stopping pre- meditated crime. But really, this is too much for the schools to be putting their business into This is part of parent responsibility and how every parent should be on top of their kids medical needs and behavior. Unfortunately, not every parent is the same, and children get away with things they shouldn’t be getting away with. It is not acceptable, but is also hard to control. But that should not mean to leave it for schools to handle. The whole topic of privacy and technology is a broad issue regarding this article. It is not acceptable for schools to be doing this. The focus should rather be on the education itself, and to make sure all students are learning.

  6. The monitoring program that the Washington schools have adopted seems to be a very controversial way to monitor students. The positives of this are that the school is able to monitor and see warning signs in children for a variety of issues. These include anxiety, self harm, bullying, and a variety of other red flags that the school can monitor and fix. It helps schools pinpoint problems in students, and intervene before they become a real problem. The schools in Washington have seen positive results from the use of this system. Their mission is to remove these negative thoughts from their schools and push them towards home where parents can help their children. The problem with this system however, is the amount of privacy that people feel is being violated. I do not think that this is something the rest of the United States is going to adopt anytime soon. Even though the idea and intent behind this system is noble, the idea that people can look at everything students search in school on computers or their own devices is a little unsettling. Even though schools need permission from parents to do this, it still feels strange. Personally, I would not want my teachers or people working in my school to know what I search, watch, or see on my phone. Even though this system is used to mark students for potentially harmful behavior, I think it is very invasive. I would also like to say that in using this system, I think teachers and staff members might become too reliant on the system for flagging potential threats to students and mental problems. This would lead to people relying on key words students use in online searches. So, instead of watching students directly, schools will think that they can see all the problems with this system. My number one fear with this system is the use of third parties that might want access to student information. This is the same way companies can market products tailored to us through our use of technology. I think it would be very invasive if this system was used for anything else other than monitoring students.

  7. On it’s face the eSpace Global’s software seem like a wholly positive program. It has allowed for employees in Western Australian schools to intervene with students when they students search for “triggered” content, particularly subjects that deal with negative mental health, violence, and other illegal activity. According to the program, some students dealing with these situations even triggered the alarm on their own in an attempt to get the help they need. In the conditions that this program is currently operated under, I see limited risk, or at least the benefits of helping struggling students outweighs the potential risk of having all that data collected on student misused.
    In different conditions, however, I would worry about the implications of this data. If Australia were to implement programs like China and monitor citizens more closely, than a program (or even the use of the program in the past as the data never truly goes away) could be very detrimental. If Australian citizens lived in a society in which they were given social scores, and essentially all future outcomes (jobs, housing, etc.) were dependent on that score, then this eSpace Global software could be very damaging to the students it monitors later in life. If a student were to use the service or get “pinged” by it, then that could factor into their social score. Someone who was pinged for mental health issues may be seen as unstable, someone pinged for sexting, nudity, pornography may be seen as not conforming to social standards, those who are pinged for drug related searches may be seen as criminals; all negatively effecting an individual’s social score later in life. Individuals would not be able to escape past searches (not even actions) that occurred in their youth, and all the data would be stored together, easy to access. This program, initially meant to help students who need it could provide the fuel to punish them and reduce their opportunities later in life if social scores and social graphs become commonplace.
    While I do see the current positives of the eSpace Global software, I do think it is important to think about where we will be globally in ten years or so. If China’s social score system becomes widespread, then programs like this software may do more harm than good in the long run.

  8. This early warning system is designed to monitor “red flag” comment and actions that are entered or pass through the schools’ computers and seems to be helping teachers and counselors address issues before they become an issue. In the articles eSafe global managing director Mark Donkersley said “this isn’t Big Brother, this is about catching something before something happens to the kids” and with recent events with school shootings this message is a strong one. If this technology can alert teachers to issues within the student body then they can offer help before things reach a breaking point. However, some students may feel that they already have limited privacy in schools, being stuck between that age where one isn’t fully an adult but not a child anymore either. This technology has a great potential to be used to help students that feel that they have no one to outlet to but will need to be monitored so that it’s not abused.

    I believe that something has to be done to help get ahead of threats that can hit schools but I also feel uneasy for the same reason that Olivia Mason offered above “I would worry about the implications of this data. If Australia were to implement programs like China and monitor citizens more closely, than a program (or even the use of the program in the past as the data never truly goes away)”. She brings up a point that this data is forever, and with events like the recent Facebook scandal with Cambridge Analytica it makes me wonder if this kind of system would only offer up more data for companies to trade and use amongst each other.

  9. I’m all for protecting student lives from suicide—I did a small advocacy project for victims in high school and my favorite books are mostly about mental health. However, I don’t think monitoring the mental health of students through their keystrokes is a very reliable method.

    First off, anyone who used Reddit or followed a meme page in 2016 probably came across an image like this: https://pics.me.me/hey-memer-why-do-you-always-wear-that-mask-crippling-5392268.png

    Or, it could have been something slightly different. Generally, the phrase “crippling depression” was a punchline, and anxiety issues were portrayed humorously. This is part of “dank meme” culture, and is usually intended to be ironic.

    So if a student is caught typing “I have crippling depression” into their keyboard, it shouldn’t immediately be taken as a sign of actual crippling depression. Furthermore, the article cites pornography as a sign of depression, but the two aren’t necessarily connected.

    Furthermore, a news article by CNN (https://www.cnn.com/2017/07/31/health/13-reasons-why-suicide-study/index.html) has linked Google searches about suicide to Netflix’s adaptation of Jay Asher’s novel TH1RTEEN R3ASONS WHY, but the actual graph shows that the searches began two whole months after the show’s release, and that they were just as high three months before. It’s ironic how a show based on a book with an unreliable narrator can be linked to unreliable statistics.

    Of course, the monitoring has its merits. It raises awareness of the issue of suicide, and it isn’t mandatory. If there’s anything good to come out of monitoring students, it’s that ultimately, people will learn to notice things.

    I have a friend who pays very close attention to people when they joke about their mental health. She takes the time to make sure her friends aren’t actually planning on committing suicide—this is in part because she deals with a mental disorder herself.

    I think that instead of having “scary bureaucrats” monitor students for their safety, the WA should start a program for students to make sure their classmates are doing alright. There should be some kind of “mandatory peer group” that puts students with mutual interests together. This way, students wouldn’t be so worried about talking to anyone about their problems, and everyone would make at least one friend who matters to them.

    Of course, students are generally incapable of saving each other from suicide without a therapist or a guidance counselor involved. The solution here would be that an adult organizes each peer group. It would be just like a college campus, but it would touch the students who probably need it more.

  10. It is always important to consider mental health to prevent tragic incidents such as suicide from occurring. The key to prevention is monitoring for signs and indicators of issues relating to an individual’s behavior, actions, and mood. Indicators are increasingly more difficult to identify, however, due to the ever-growing time spent online and on mobile devices. This makes it more and more difficult for even those closest to the individual to identify key indicators. Thus, I believe the development of such a program as the UK-based software, which searches for these indicators when others cannot, is phenomenal. Not only is it intelligent enough to pick up on phrases, abbreviations, searches, and view history, but it can also identify these according to potential indicators for mental health incidents and need for intervention.
    Applying this software throughout school systems and into the technology many young teens and adults use has already proven to be beneficial when identifying and dealing with risk factors as seen by Washington schools. It would be in the best interest of younger generations to continue to apply these practices and to widen the range to ensure the right attention and care is provided to protecting the safety and mental health of the population. The statistics already prove how much of a difference there has been in these select schools and note the intention to implement the software throughout the state. However, the software should not be limited to just the state of Washington; it should be expanded to a larger region across the nation. Additionally, developers should not rest as there is always room for improvement and development to ensure the software is at its best.
    However, while the software would be phenomenal at detecting these online and digital-based signs, it is also highly important to be on the lookout for signs when individuals are off their devices as well. While many people tend to spend a substantial amount of time on their phones, laptops, and electronic devices, they do not spend all of their time doing so. Thus, we cannot forget to be on the look out for indicators of mental issues and possible incidents occurring around us.

  11. While I believe that schools and a 3rd party organization should monitor student’s activities in school, I am uncomfortable with them reaching to out of school portions regarding a student’s life. The point can be made in which what happens in a student’s life outside of school can have an impact on the in school experience of that student, however this number is not as significant as the number of those without an impact on the school. I believe something has to be done about school security however. If you think about it, a school building is the largest host of children at once. This is a huge soft target for hostile individuals or groups with heinous intentions. The goal should be to harden these soft targets this way hostiles will be unable to intrude and or attack. The can be done by implementing a security apparatus in all schools. This may include features such as upgraded three hundred sixty degree cameras and armed security by either a third party or an official law enforcement organization. These are the only true way to secure schools and ensure the safety of the children and faculty inside. When hardening soft targets, the top things to consider are: Management, Assets, Threats, Deterrence, Detection, Delay, Response, Mitigation, Briefings & Drills, and Risk Prioritization. All of these elements play a large part in the protection of our nation’s children, and maintaining a proper management style when it comes to these children is of the utmost importance. Therefore, in my opinion, the proper way to deal with school security is to make sure that the threats to not enter the building. Additionally, it is inappropriate for a school to have access to a child’s private data when they are not on school property. It is one thing if the schools monitor activity on their property, but not outside of their jurisdiction.

  12. This article provides data about common “hot words and phrases” that are being said over a monitored wireless connection. The software showed that there is a clear issue in this particular high school district, which can be extended to other schools across the world. The data showed that the most common incidents were suicidal thoughts, drugs, and pornography. Although it is hard to think about, high school is that weird age where you are between a child and an adult. From personal experience, high school was a big step up from middle school. As a freshman going into high school, I feel like I had these “expectations” of what high school would be like from what I saw in movies and tv shows. I believe that these incidents have some correlation with those expectations.
    The article also mentions one important fact that I believe a lot of readers would not have caught: “ Students are aware they are being monitored.” This fact really stands out to me and has me questioning the students’ reasoning. Normally, if there is knowledge of a higher authority watching over your shoulder, a big bother, you would feel more obligated to be more reserved and cautious, however for the software to pick up such high amounts of incidents, 8000 to be exact, is baffling. The hardest part about this whole situation is trying to figure out a solution. In order to reduce these incidents and improve safety in the schools, there must be a root to the problems. Whether these incidents are at the fault of the students, the parents, or the school district, this problem is worldwide.

  13. I’ve always been throughly against the idea of monitoring teenagers and childrens devices. Usually this is a sign that parents or teachers do not trust the children and teens in question to be honest and transparent about what they are doing online, therefore, they install these kinds of programs in secret. Then when, said teen/child eventually finds out that they were being monitored, it leads to a severe lack of trust in the authority that sticks with them for a long time, either consciously or subconsciously. However, for this particular interest, I believe that the school system is going about this the right way. First is the transparency of the program. All students are told that their searches are being monitored, so it would be no surprise at all to them. And if they or their parents are uncomfortable with it, there is an opt out clause that they can use to not be monitored. Second is the intent, as it’s not just to alert them to potential dangers, but to possibly alert the faculty to potential bully cases. As stated in the article, the alert has been triggered intentionally by victims in order for them to find a way to safely contact faculties about whats been going on. While I’m not one to endorse these kinds of programs, I feel that it is being done the correct way, and I commend the faculty offices for being transparent and implementing the program in a safe and non intrusive manner.

  14. In eight high schools in Western Australia, school administrations are implementing a global online program, eSafe, to monitor the computer activity of around 9,000 students in total. The most common incidences that are unveiled by this controversial process are: suicidal/depressive thoughts, viewing pornography, and searching to buy and sell drugs. These are all early-warning markers for the schools to use to get students appropriate mental and psychical help while also protecting the welfare of the school as a whole. Through the use of “red flag” words, phrases, abbreviations, euphemisms and colloquialisms searched by students in grades 7-12, the schools have legitimately intervened in more than 8,000 incidents. Behavior specialists deemed all of these incidents legitimate as well, proving the efficiency of the program.

    The most prevalent issues of the 8,000 reported incidents were 38% for student’s mental health (anxiety, depression, self-harm risk) 20% for pornography, and 11% for drugs. Other issues that round out the lower ends of the percentages include violence, bullying and possible terrorism. While schools in this day and age are constantly looking to figure out ways to keep their students safe in the classroom, students’ mental health is often a neglected notion. With the shocking events that unfolded when 19-year-old disgruntled student, Nikolas Cruz, killed 17 and left 14 wounded with a semi-automatic AR-15 rifle in February of 2018, according to CNN.com. This is just the most recent of pieces in the news about the issues of heavy weaponry being available to the public. I think that had this strategy been implemented in America, we could’ve possibly detracted Mr. Cruz as someone who was struggling with mental health issues. If detected, he would’ve been given the help that he needed and the event itself could have possibly been avoided. Ever since this strategy was applied, detected incidents in WA schools have dropped nearly one-third in 2017.

    On the flip side of this, from an ethics standpoint, I’m not sure if this will last much longer. While the results that this program yields is undeniably beneficial in terms of getting students the help they need in a timely matter, how close do we have to spy on students for the possibility of revealing an issue that could have serious implications. At what point do these outside agencies hired by the government draw the line? What is their process to add more red flag words to their list? Will one be notified when they are being monitored or have already been monitored? Similarly, the U.S. saw an incident like this when the NSA was found to be spying on American emails, phone calls and text messages under the Patriot Act. While this act was constitutional under the Patriot Act, the morality of these actions made little sense to American citizens. The government should only be allowed to use that authority when they believe there is a serious threat from someone; similar to eSafe’s programs infrastructure. The United States government received tons of public backlash for overextending their power, violating citizens privacy laws and causing distrust between the government and the public. The same could be thought of in this case as well. Just because we are students, does not mean we should be exempt from simple laws like all other citizens. Being a teenager going through grades 7-12 is hard enough socially without having to walk on eggshells wondering if you are going to be under investigation for everything you write, post, like, and share. At some point we need to figure out where the fine line is on how much authority theses companies can have to our student’s personal lives and personal information.

  15. This monitoring system could ultimately regulate cyberbullying and prevent any future malicious conduct. Prevention is essential in this day and age where cyberbullying has led to multiple school shootings over the course of a decade. Noticing the warning signs early and addressing them will show a great impact on the number of violent incidents that happen inside of schools across the country. This system of monitoring students’ internet activity while in school is acceptable. Teenage mental health is an issue that is overlooked and ultimately leads to these violent events. Now the sensitive topic is; should this monitoring extend out the homes of these high school students?
    The downside to this is that parents and students could feel like their privacy is being invaded. In the mist of current protesting and lobbying for tighter gun control, social media has become an outlet for students to voice their opinions. Would it be possible that students who voice their opinions about school shootings and gun violence be punished for internet searches relate to violent topics? This could lead to privacy infringement lawsuits from parents if students are reprimanded for these searchers.

  16. For this week assignment I read a very interesting article titled “ Eight WA High Schools Use Cyber Spy Program Which Homes In on ‘Early Warning Markers’ for Students”. The author discusses a web monitoring program a number of high schools have recently adopted called eSafe Global. This web monitoring program is being used to discover or identify red flag words, phrases, abbreviations searched for or typed by students from the 7th through the 12th grade pertaining to pornography, depression, threats, and a number of mental health issues.
    Although I truly believe schools must take the initiative before an incident occur, however I disagree with this course of action because it is very invasive and it can be very problematic in the future in regards to where all the information are being stored and who has access to those information.

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