Alabama School System Spies on Black Students

by Project Censored

This story has been posted on other social media. Its main focus is on how an Alabama school system (Huntsville city schools) paid a former FBI agent the sum of $157,000 to direct security of their schools but the main purpose was to actually spy on the social media activity of the black students in the schools. The agent was brought in to oversee the Students Against Fear program (SAFe). This program allows students and teachers to submit anonymous tips to security personnel. According to the paperwork provided by the school administration system, the SAFe program does not work directly for the school system. Instead, it is employed by T&W Operations. T&W Operations, which is a service-disabled, veteran-owned, small business in Huntsville, Alabama, provides labor and support services for logistics operations with government and commercial clients. Over 600 students attending these schools had their social media monitored in the year 2013. Students who were expelled due to certain social media issues were mostly African-Americans.


Scott Kaufman, “Alabama school system paid former FBI agent $157,000 to spy on black students,” Raw Story, November 2, 2014
Student Researcher: Rachael Tiamiyu, Indian River State College
Faculty Researcher:  Elliot D. Cohen, Ph.D., Indian River State College

Ethics Alerts

There are several ethical problems raised by this story, which include abuse of power, bias, and invasion of privacy. First, the abuse of power involved the school administration violating student privacy.  Instead of actually monitoring the students’ social media to see if the students were present in school, they spied on the students’ posts on Facebook or Twitter to determine if they posed a threat to the school. There are other ways to see if a student is present in school and other ways to find out if a student poses a threat to the school. Ethically, the school administration should get informed consent from the students or their parents before monitoring their social media activities; otherwise it treats them like objects.
Second, there was bias because the FBI agent paid more attention to the social media activities of the black students. Not only did the agent monitor the social media activity of students without their informed consent; he focused on a particular race. It is not like these students had done something which makes them a possible threat. This act is more like looking for reason to find reasons. This sounds like racism.  In fact, school shooting cases in the news have all been instigated by white students and not black students, so it seems racist, not to mention imprudent, to concentrate on the black students when dealing with safety issues. Another question that can be raised is whether any of the African American student posed any possible threats in the past to the school for them to have the notion to monitor them. In the absent of such evidence, it seems clear that the special monitoring of black students was racist..
Alabama has a long history of racism, so it may come as no surprise for a situation like this to occur there. Nevertheless, It is still very disconcerting that this history is being repeated in 2014. On a personal note, the concept of racism is foreign to me. I am from Nigeria, and in my country, nobody is ever judged by the color of his or her skin or ethnicity. This is a very sensitive situation and is one that needs to be shared with the public.
If the school system denies that its program was racist, then it needs to explain why the program focused on black students.  Both black and white people pay taxes in Alabama, so why should black people have to pay for a program that only monitors their race, especially when it can easily be documented that many of the most horrendous acts that occur in schools are instigated by white males.