French Court Smacks Remote Learning Software Company For Pervasive Surveillance Of Students In Their Own Homes

trapped students in their own homes to stop the spread of the coronavirus. They didn’t ask for this. Neither did educators. But educators made the worst of it in far too many cases.

Aptitude tests and other essentials for continued funding (and bragging rights) were now out of their control. Any student sitting at home had access to a wealth of knowledge to buttress what they may have actually retained from remote instruction.

Leveling the playing field was the goal. In practice, that meant turning the most sacrosanct of private places — students’ homes and bedrooms — into heavily surveilled spaces… all in the interest of preventing cheating.

Laptop cameras monitored rooms and students’ movements during testing. Internet connections often contributed more to passing grades than students’ knowledge as educators (and their preferred tech partners) viewed inconsistent or dropped connections as indicators of attempted cheating. Malware deliberately installed by schools monitored internet usage before, during, and after tests.

A bedroom is not a classroom, even if that’s where the educating is taking place temporarily due to pandemic restrictions. But that’s how it was perceived and a bunch of opportunistic spyware purveyors rushed to fill the perceived “fairness” void with surveillance software that even the most inveterate stalker might consider too invasive.

Proctorio was on the forefront of this education-adjacent bedroom surveillance. It was particularly enthusiastic about stripping students of their privacy. When it was criticized for going too far, it went further, issuing legal threats and bogus DMCA takedown notices to its detractors.

What was briefly considered acceptable by one set of government employees has been rejected by other government employees. In September 2022, an Ohio state court ruled that scans of students’ rooms during remote learning violated the Fourth Amendment against unreasonable searches.

Respondus was the test proctoring spyware on the receiving end of that decision. Another competitor in the incredibly invasive field has been hit with an adverse judicial decision, this one originating in France. Karen Cullo delivers the details via the EFF’s Deeplinks blog.

In a preliminary victory in the continuing fight against privacy-invasive software that “watches” students taking tests remotely, a French administrative court outside Paris suspended a university’s use of the e-proctoring platform TestWe, which monitors students through facial recognition and algorithmic analysis.
TestWe software, much like Proctorio, Examsoft, and other proctoring apps we’ve called out for intrusive monitoring of exam takers, constantly tracks students’ eye movements and their surroundings using video and sound analysis. The court in Montreuil, France, ruled that such “permanent surveillance of bodies and sounds” is unreasonable and excessive for the purpose preventing cheating.

Yeah, that’s a problem. Government entities can get away with some rights violations as long as they have a “compelling” (in the legal sense of the word) reason for doing so. Preventing students from cheating on tests ain’t it, though. Cheating on classwork has always been a thing. Just because it may now happen in kids’ own bedrooms doesn’t mean the government’s intrusion is justified.

But the legal battle isn’t over yet. This ruling basically says the case can proceed because the court believes the plaintiffs have sufficiently alleged governmental abuse of their rights. More evidence will be needed to ensure a final opinion — one that will hopefully side with students and their privacy. Just because an unforeseen event made things more difficult for schools doesn’t mean they’re allowed to force things to return to something approaching “normal” by any means necessary.

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