We’re now well into the 21st century, and spy kids have finally become a reality, just probably not in the way you might have imagined. Instead of precocious karate-kicking tweens spying on behalf of the government, it’s parents using technology to turn their child into a secret recording device.
Companies such as AngelSense have sprung up to equip anxious parents with devices that not only track their child’s every move, but also allow parents to listen in on whatever is going on around them. They are especially popular among parents with special needs students, who say they need the devices to keep their kids safe at school. The problem, however, is that this might not be legal.
Many states have laws on the books that prevent people from covertly recording the conversations of others. Which means parents who use such devices to spy on those who interact with their children can run afoul of both state and federal wiretapping laws.
Joshua and Britten Wahrer waged a legal battle for the right to have their 6-year-old autistic son wear the device at school. His teacher had recently been accused of hitting him with a wooden pointer stick, and was subsequently arrested (she later resigned). The Wahrers wanted to have the device allowed so that they could listen in and ensure his safety. The school district rejected the request, saying the device would be too intrusive. The family launched suit. but lost that legal battle in April 2019.
Other schools, however, have been more accommodating. Yael Talmor, head of marketing for AngelSense, says that thousands of schools have embraced their technology with open arms. Yet these schools may themselves be running afoul of the law, because it isn’t just teachers and school administrators who have a vested interest in privacy. Such devices are assured to inadvertently pick up other sensitive information, not just from adults but other children as well.
Kids say a lot of things when parents aren’t around, especially if they think adults aren’t listening. During my time as a teacher, I overheard all sorts of discussions on sensitive topics: grade school kids discuss their sex lives or plans to lose their virginity; they talk about discipline and punishment or conflicts in the home; they disclose their parents’ drinking habits or inadvertently allude to illegal drug use; sometimes we even know which of you fart too much and the arguments this creates with your spouse.
It’s one thing if an experienced teacher who’s accustomed to school-yard banter overhears such conversations. It’s quite another to have a digital record of all the things kids say in the hands of another parent–one whom, by taking such a step to begin with, has already shown themselves to be anxious, overreactive, and paranoid—and is therefore prone to make a stink over things that might be fairly common aspects of school life.
We all want our children to be safe, but the growth of this Orwellian surveillance state–especially when it comes to matters of childrearing – is deeply concerning. Not only are the supposed benefits of such intrusive monitoring elusive and highly suspect, (in fact, I would argue they are non-existent), but it’s well established that overprotective parenting can be just as harmful as any other type of abuse. Overprotective parents, in their zeal to shield children from harm, wind up crippling their kids, so that by the time they reach adulthood they’re more fragile and incompetent than those who’ve actually grown up being abused.
If such nanny-state surveillance were truly beneficial for those subjected to it, then citizens of North Korea should be the happiest and safest people on earth. But of course, we all know that isn’t how things work in real life. Why would we expect things to be radically different when applied to the lives of children?
- picture copyright Spy Kids