Student Surveillance Software: Balancing Safety and Privacy

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As the Covid-19 pandemic forced educational institutions worldwide to adapt to remote instruction and limited campus access, a pressing question emerged: How do we ensure academic integrity and campus safety amidst these unprecedented challenges? Unfortunately, the answer has often come in the form of increased surveillance practices, which may persist even after the pandemic has receded into memory. Learn more about the trend for student surveillance that was started by Covid regulations in this article.

Student Surveillance

The Rise of Online Proctoring

Recent incidents, such as the accusation of cheating against ten medical students at the University of Dartmouth, shed light on the growing reliance on online proctoring software. These tools utilize algorithms to monitor students’ activities during exams, raising concerns about accuracy and privacy. Despite protests, administrators often remain tight-lipped about the inner workings of such software, leaving students and faculty in the dark.

Concerns and Ethical Considerations

A survey reveals that over half of higher education administrators utilize online proctoring methods, with more considering adoption. However, the invasive nature of these technologies raises ethical concerns, particularly regarding students’ lack of choice in accepting surveillance conditions. Apps like Respondus, while designed to maintain exam integrity, have faced criticism for overreach, flagging innocent actions and impeding privacy.

Health Tracking on Campus

Beyond exam monitoring, universities faced challenges in maintaining campus safety, especially in fields requiring in-person labs and projects. Institutions like Oakland University turned to innovative solutions like the BioButton, a wearable device that tracks vital signs and helps manage campus health. While optional for students, such technologies represent a shift towards increased surveillance and data collection.

The Perils of Surveillance

While surveillance technologies offer convenience and safety measures, they come with significant drawbacks. Their institutionalization makes them challenging to dismantle, perpetuating a culture of surveillance long after the immediate need has passed. Moreover, constant reminders of surveillance can contribute to heightened stress levels among students, altering behavior and mindset.


1. How accurate are online proctoring tools in detecting cheating?

  • Online proctoring tools vary in accuracy, relying on algorithms to monitor students’ behavior. However, concerns about false positives and privacy breaches persist.

2. Can students opt out of using surveillance software during exams?

  • In most cases, students must adhere to their institution’s requirements regarding exam proctoring, leaving them with little choice in the matter.

3. Are there alternatives to traditional surveillance methods for maintaining campus safety?

  • Yes, institutions have explored alternatives like wearable health tracking devices to manage campus health while minimizing intrusions on privacy.

4. How can universities balance safety and privacy concerns when implementing surveillance measures?

  • Universities must engage in transparent dialogue with students and faculty, prioritizing privacy protections while ensuring campus safety.

5. What can students do to advocate for their privacy rights in the face of increased surveillance?

  • Students can voice their concerns to university administrations, advocate for transparent policies, and support initiatives promoting privacy rights on campus.

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