Public schools

School Secretly Monitoring Students' Facebook Posts—On Advice from NSA

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NSA
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A Huntsville, Alabama, public school superintendent says that after taking a friendly call from the NSA, he decided to start secretly monitoring students' social media activities.

The school board had no idea what he was doing, and the NSA has denied that it would make a phone call concerning a domestic matter. But Superintendent Casey Wardynski says no, it was definitely the NSA who called.

The entire, confusing story, courtesy of Alabama.com:

A secret program to monitor students' online activities began quietly in Huntsville schools, following a phone call from the NSA, school officials say.

Huntsville schools Superintendent Casey Wardynski says the system began monitoring social media sites 18 months ago, after the National Security Agency tipped the school district to a student making violent threats on Facebook.

The NSA, a U.S. agency responsible for foreign intelligence, this week said it has no record of a call to Huntsville and does not make calls to school systems.

Regardless of how the program started, Huntsville City Schools began scanning Facebook and other sites for signs of gang activity, watching for photos of guns, photos of gang signs and threats of violence.

The Huntsville monitoring program is called SAFe, or Students Against Fear. School board members said they did not know about the program when contacted last week.

The story goes on to note that at least three students were expelled for posting pictures of themselves holding guns, even though none of the pictures were taken on school grounds.

The NSA's initial call to the school, according to Wardynski, concerned a student who had made a "threat" about a teacher on Facebook. NSA saw the post because the student had been talking online with someone from Yemen, said the superintendent. That seems possible, if not entirely believable:

"There was a foreign connection," said Wardynski, explaining why the NSA would contact Huntsville schools.

Al Lankford, the city's longtime school security officer, told AL.com that he took the NSA phone call. He said security officers went to the high school and eventually searched the boy's car.

"We found a very good size knife and the student was expelled," said Wardynski, a former U.S. Army colonel appointed as superintendent in Huntsville in 2011.

Whether it was really the NSA or just somebody trying to get a kid in trouble, the phone call has served as powerful inspiration.

The district's Code of Conduct states that students may not possess "weapons or anything made, designed or adopted or used for the purpose of inflicting death or serious physical injury," nor may they pose "in a menacing manner with what appear to be weapons." Such behavior is unacceptable, even it it occurs away from school grounds, according to officials.

For now, the social media monitoring program is focused solely on detecting gang activity. It would be easy to imagine the scope of SAFe's mission expanding to include surveillance of non-violent student activity, like alcohol and drug consumption, however.

Most civil libertarians would probably prefer if the NSA—or whoever made that call—would stop inspiring schools to setup their own spy agencies.

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  1. Just…..derp. So. Fucked. We are.

  2. I suspect a hoax.

    If it was really the NSA, there have to be multiple laws that were broken.

    Who gets a phone call from someone purporting to be the NSA and just believes it?
    Oh wait, a school superintendent might.

    Did the caller demand that the student be strip searched in a back room ?

    1. Al Lankford, the city’s longtime school security officer, told AL.com that he took the NSA phone call.

      These local bureaucrats can’t even get their lies straight.

      “I took the NSA call”.

      “N0, I took the NSA call.”

  3. The NSA, a U.S. agency responsible for foreign intelligence, this week said it has no record of a call to Huntsville and does not make calls to school systems.

    The NSA called and said they can neither confirm nor deny having anything to do with foreign intelligence. They then emailed to say they didn’t call. They then faxed to say they didn’t email about not having called.

  4. The district’s Code of Conduct states that students may not possess “weapons or anything made, designed or adopted or used for the purpose of inflicting death or serious physical injury,” nor may they pose “in a menacing manner with what appear to be weapons.” Such behavior is unacceptable, even it it occurs away from school grounds, according to officials.

    All you children are belong to us.

    1. I noticed that “Code of Conduct”.

      I hope the three students expelled have lawyered up and slapped the district with a nice 1A lawsuit.

    2. So, kids get expelled for doing perfectly legal things while not at school. Awesome.

      1. Not at school?!? There’s no such condition. Didn’t you read the copy of the social contract in the maternity ward? Everyone within the school, no one outside the school, and no one against the school.

  5. I once got a call from a guy purporting to be with the Secret Service and assigned to an office in NY. His area code on caller ID was 876, which meant it was a Jamaican phone number. One of the few times I’ve actually said “go fuck yourself” into a telephone.

    I suspect these were the same assholes who conned my ex out of a bunch of money in a lottery scam, then scammed her out of more money by pretending to be American law enforcement trying to get the money back.

    1. Why would you even answer a call from an unknown caller with a Jamaican area code?

      1. I was expecting a work-related call from a vendor. So when the strange number popped up, I assumed it was he. Only when the guy said he worked for the Secret Service did my brain register that the area code was the Jamaican one.

        1. who memorizes area codes ? ? ? i *might* ‘know’ 3-4 just because i use them all the time, but would only have a faint clue (as far as region of the country) where most any other area code originated from…

          besides, i’m a nut, i actually don’t screen calls, but -i know how weird this is- when the phone rings, i pick it up and say ‘hello’…

          if they are idiots, i say ‘i’m sorry, i’m not interested, goodbye’, no muss, no fuss…

    2. I suspect these were the same assholes who conned my ex out of a bunch of money in a lottery scam, then scammed her out of more money by pretending to be American law enforcement trying to get the money back.

      You do realize that’s the plot of Matchstick Men?

    3. My wife’s mother got a call from someone purporting to be from the IRS trying to “resolve a misunderstanding” on her answering machine. I told her if they called back to ask them to come around in person so her lawyer could verify their credentials.

      1. I’ve been getting scam calls too. One of them was ostensibly a phone message from an IRS officer; Googling revealed he/they had been running the same swindle for months, giving the same last name albeit different 1st names. Another just made a vague threat if I didn’t call back a certain number.

        I suggest ScamWarners.com if you want to keep up with some of the latest swindles. They cover only a narrow range of scams, but that narrow range (basically versions of the pigeon drop) is so widely practiced, it winds up being most of them.

        More often than these threat-style calls, I get them from the US Gov’t Grants Dept.

    4. I once got an email from a Nigerian Prince who needed money to cover the cost of the transaction fees in claiming his inheritance worth over $100million. In exchange for covering the transaction fees amounting to $10k he promised to pay me $100k. Makes sense right? So I wired him the $10k and he promptly sent me a check for $100k. So the moral of the story; you can always trust Nigerians. THE END

  6. Here’s the thing – WHETHER OR NOT IS WAS THE TSA, THESE DUMBASSES RESPONDED.

    Cause SAFETY AND SECURITY. Spying on fucking Facebook? Really? I’m glad my kids are out of school, cause my response to finding out the school was meddling in anything not happening in the classroom or on a public school sports team would probably have landed me in jail.

    Now I can just feel bad about other people’s kids….sorry, sucks to be you and your kids 🙁

    1. Right, this just shows that school superintendents are just as stupid as McDonald’s managers.

      To be fair, this school district sounds like it’s not in the best neighborhood.

      1. McDonald’s managers — even the shift leaders are better vetted, trained, and face more competition for their jobs.

        1. She’s referring to a specific incident, I think.

          Though I think it is more the general tendency of a lot of people to obey authority that is more the issue than the competence or intelligence of any particular people.

          1. Yes, the famous cases of a crank caller phoning a McD’s claiming to be a cop and having a female employee strip searched by phone.
            (Among other things.)

  7. Parenting 101 should teach children about the pitfalls of social media in the NSA/Goody-2-Shoes-Terrified-of-Arabs age.

    “Most civil libertarians would probably prefer if the NSA?or whoever made that call?would stop stop inspiring schools to setup their own spy agencies.”

    Robby, quit soft-soaping it with ‘probably prefer’… ‘stridently demand’ is far more accurate.

    As an aside you also have two ‘stops’ in that sentence.

  8. But Superintendent Casey Wardynski says no, it was definitely the NSA who called.

    Which makes total sense, since last week the President called him to talk about issues at his school, and the week before Miley Cyrus totally called him about doing a concert in the gym.

    1. The NSA probably knew the secret password.

  9. The district’s Code of Conduct states that students may not possess “weapons or anything made, designed or adopted or used for the purpose of inflicting death or serious physical injury,” nor may they pose “in a menacing manner with what appear to be weapons.”

    The story goes on to note that at least three students were expelled for posting pictures of themselves holding guns, even though none of the pictures were taken on school grounds.

    “Look of this picture of me and this 12-point buck I shot!”

    “You’re expelled, son.”

  10. This is scary the school has given itself authority over what a child does off campus. I hope the parents of the children suspended for having guns off campus, which is legal, sue the heck out of them.

    1. It’s Huntington Alabama. You know, Nasa country.

      In my experience the drones that populate that worthless agency are the sort that would fall all over themselves to obey any authority’s dictates.

    2. Not just this school. This sort of thing is often covered here.

      Huntsville, not Huntington, but yes it’s NASA country. And you would think that engineer types would be more rational.

      1. There’s probably 12 bureaucrats for every engineer at NASA.

        Maybe the superintendent got a call from N.A.S.A. and he just assumed it was NSA because everyone else pronounces NASA like it’s an actual word.

    3. Are you kidding? My high school in rural Montana had similar practices. Plenty of kids who were caught drinking or otherwise “misbehaving” in the off-season of their sport were suspended from participating in any extracurricular activities for the next season.

    4. No, they haven’t actually given themselves authority, because you have the option to take the expulsion. Presumably then you’re exempt from the compulsory attendance laws.

      1. thats fine if you want to be a drop out and not get a decent job that requires a high school diploma.

  11. The Huntsville monitoring program is called SAFe, or Students Against Fear.

    It isn’t the students who are doing the monitoring, it is the school administration. And they aren’t monitoring against anything, they are monitoring for perceived threats. And they aren’t against fear, they are in fact fearful of perceived threats. So wouldn’t a more accurate monitoring program be called ALLSHIT, or Administration Looking onLine for Students Hiding Internet Threats?

    1. “they aren’t against fear, they are in fact fearful of perceived threats.”

      I would put it that they are actually promoting fear, for the purpose of making students more dependent.

  12. So the strings attached to public indoctrination grow stronger? This is my shocked face.

    If raising your children is the State’s responsibility the State will decide how that is done.

  13. When I was a senior in high school I carried my fishing tackle,filet knife and a shot gun in the trunk,depending which season it was.Some teacher’s did same.I wonder if the tire iron in all cars would be considered a weapon by these idiots.I was old enough to legally hunt by myself.Had a lot of good meals from small game.

  14. If I’m looking at your wall posts on your facebook page, and I haven’t friended you, am I “secretly” monitoring your facebook page?

    1. Sure! Because you aren’t telling me about it!

      That’s why this is hilarious overreaction.

      Some dude at the school is looking at public Facebook posts, and it’s all “NSA and stuff!”.

      The problem here is the whole policy angle and “even when you’re not at school” thing, not “looking at public internet content”.

  15. The NSA, a U.S. agency responsible for foreign intelligence, this week said it has no record of a call to Huntsville and does not make calls to school systems.

    By the way, I’m going to cautiously believe the NSA on this one. How easy would it be for me to go all Ferris Beuller, call the school principal and claim I’m agent P. I. Staker from the NSA and rat out someone’s facebook page.

    And knowing the thought-challenged people that run the school system, how easy would it be to get them to fall for it?

  16. Wait, public school students in Huntsville risk expulsion for legally owning a hunting gun or even a knife? In their own home? In Alabama? Really?

    I must have misunderstood this article..

  17. In high school we had a kid who called the local radio station with a spot on impersonation of the principal (small town, small radio station) and had them announce a snow day.

    There was some snow, but not enough for a real snow day.

    I’m sure he could have gotten this numb nuts to believe he was from the NSA too. What surprises me is that the caller didn’t warn him about the new “bra bomb” that they were trying to track. And tell the principal to send any suspicious photos to nsa7272@hotmailcom

  18. Ok, ok, this is Huntsville, Alabama. I’m guessing that’s a red-ish state. I’m guessing there may be a higher-than-average rate of gun ownership. The school system says that no student may possess a firearm?

  19. As I’m reading that Code of Conduct, going to the gun range as a 17 or 18 year old, with your parents, to learn gun safety and practice marksmanship, is an expulsion offense.

    Or, taking a picture of yourself holding a gun.

    This is an agency of the state. How they can just bulldoze the First and Second Amendments with absolutely zero restraint or consequences is a telling commentary on our prison-education complex.

    1. Look, every pedagogue knows the Bill Of Rights doesn’t apply to people under the age of 21 or whatever random age of majority they can come up with.

  20. “program is called SAFe, or Students Against Fear.”

    They couldn’t think of anything they oppose starting with E? Students Against Fear & Exploitation, or Extortion, or Eradication, or Expulsion…

    oh wait. It’s pro expulsion. Maybe Students Against Fear and Education.

  21. One of the things I learned when I was in law enforcement, is that if you act like you are in authority, either on the phone or in person without any kind of confirmation or showing of a badge, people will still generally do what you ask without question.

    About 1 in 50 over the phone would be bright enough to say “hey, how about I call you back at the publicly listed number and ask for you, just to make sure you are who you claim to be?”

    I’ve used the same concept in my career and to help my kids get further ahead in their jobs by just being assertive and telling people what to do as though you are already their boss – actually being promoted to their boss usually follows quickly.

    Sadly, people crave top.men

  22. The NSA, a U.S. agency responsible for foreign intelligence, this week said it has no record of a call to Huntsville and does not make calls to school systems

    And sorry, but all of our hard drives have recently crashed and all records of email are gone, so we don’t know what happened.

    /Just another corrupt government agency…

  23. This sounds like a great lawsuit in the making. I was unaware that school systems had the authority to create laws with precedence over federal, state and local laws. If they can create laws prohibiting students from exercising 2nd amendment rights anywhere in the country*, they have more legislative authority than the Alabama legislature does!

    * that “may not own” is pretty broad!

  24. “For now, the social media monitoring program is focused solely on detecting gang activity.”

    I had no idea Huntsville, AL (I love the ICBM you have for a town-sign!) was so ‘West Side Story’. Which is more of a problem, you think: The Sharks OR the Jets? Crips or Bloods? MS17? Hells Angels?

      1. Jesus, the CHINESE!!?

      2. NOT THE CHINGIE-LINGIES! Anyone but those evil slanty eyed bastards!

    1. No kidding. Huntsville, Alabama? The only gangs there are of fat white boys. It’s Mud Rompers vs Cow Tippers.

      1. Roll Tide!

        (because Alabamans that dress up in odd, tribal colors and engage in collective drunken celebrations of violence? JESUS WE WOULDNT WANT *THAT*!?)

  25. The Huntsville monitoring program is called SAFe, or Students Against Fear.

    Nothing Orwellian about that. “Hey, let’s see if we can instill a permanent state of unease and paranoia in our students. We’ll call it Students Against Fear. Haha, that’ll be so cool. Then they’ll love us, and realize we’re just here to help them, and make their lives better.”

    1. If the only thing we have to fear is fear itself, shouldn’t we stop being afraid of fear?
      Or should we be even more against fear?

      I’m confused now…

  26. The district’s Code of Conduct states that students may not possess “weapons or anything made, designed or adopted or used for the purpose of inflicting death or serious physical injury,”

    Seriously?

    What the fucking fuck? This could be construed to include a kid who posts picture of himself with his newly acquired jacked up bitchin’ Camaro.

    1. Of course… nothing more dangerous than a kid with a bitchin Camaro!

  27. http://www.huntsvillecityschools.org/?PN=AboutUs

    We also have several JROTC programs, including:

    Army JROTC at Columbia, Grissom and Lee High School
    Marine JROTC at J.O. Johnson High School
    Air Force JROTC at Butler and Huntsville High School

    My NJROTC unit had a rifle team (competitive shooting.) And aside from that, we would march with dummy rifles all the time. We had a drill team that practiced with dummy rifles, and the color guard presented the colors at all the school sporting events and in parades with two members carrying rifles. How would that square with their idiotic Code of Conduct?

    1. When my high school was first built (~1930s), there was a rifle range under the auditorium with both boys and girls rifle teams. Twenty years or so before that at the old high school, there was a student run fire station with full turnout gear, equipment, and dalmatian.

      1. When the Nazis comes, children are expected to fight back. When ISIS comes, children are expected to submit and cooperate.

  28. How would that square with their idiotic Code of Conduct?

    Uniforms, dude.

    duh

  29. decided to start secretly monitoring students’ social media activities.

    “The Fourth Amendment”. What is it?

    The story goes on to note that at least three students were expelled for posting pictures of themselves holding guns…The district’s Code of Conduct states that students may not possess “weapons…” nor may they pose “in a menacing manner with what appear to be weapons.” Such behavior is unacceptable, even it it occurs away from school grounds

    For fucks sake.

  30. Perhaps the people doing the monitoring of the students are superheroes and never make mistakes when deciding what’s good for the students. http://youtu.be/GqQAqds_3CU

    #iamdouglass

  31. We just had school board elections, I voted for someone who campaigned on an anti-Wardynski platform. My candidate is out, and the runoff is between a pro-Wardynski candidate and a luke-warm candidate. I really don’t like this guy.

    I’m thinking that the expulsions are probably targeted. I’m pretty sure my fiance’s son (high school age) posted video of himself firing my brother’s AR while we were on vacation last summer. And his younger sister (middle-school age) fired it to, and probably put video up as well. She was adorable.

    I’m so sick of Huntsville city schools and Wardynski.

  32. As far as I am concerned, schools have the right to monitor their students social media in case that they are doing anything illegal or bad. Monitoring their socila media activities using Micro keylogger http://www.remotespy.co/pc-keylogger.htm is a must as well as necessity. Cyber danger is existing everywhere on the Internet. We must do everything to prevent the tragedy from happening.

  33. Here is your Israeli lobby at work I’ll bet. Like it’s against the law to speak to someone in Yemen?

  34. The NSA or related agencies are constantly pushing for information with threats and intimidation. I’ve watched it and been amazed. They get some ties with influential people and go from there.

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