Zoom’s popularity skyrocketed as the COVID-19 pandemic intensified in Spring 2020, and the company’s revenues rose more than 169 percent. Online conferencing has enabled people to continue their work, school, and social lives, ultimately making Zoom an essential service. However, as John Whitehead reported for OpEdNews in September 2020, “the Fourth Amendment ramifications of having students attend school online via video classes from the privacy of their homes” add another “troubling layer to the ways in which students (and their families) can run afoul of a police state education now that school (virtual or in-person) is back in session.”
The free version of Zoom does not grant end-to-end encryption or guarantee secure private connections without possible surveillance by law enforcement, and third-party affiliates. Those who opt for the free version of Zoom are often low income, struggling students, the elderly, and the disabled. Zoom has offered to provide end-to-end encryption for all users, as long as they verified their phone number first. Yet, many users do not do this or know that such an option exists.
Zoom classrooms allow teachers, government officials, and law enforcement visual access to the insides of students’ homes, without a warrant. Anything teachers or other officials see, hear, or record via a Zoom virtual classroom can be investigated without a warrant. For example, Whitehead reported on the case of an 11-year-old boy in Maryland: Police came to his home in search of weapons after school officials observed a BB gun mounted on his bedroom wall during a virtual class. Across the country, growing numbers of parents are being visited by social services after being reported by school officials, all because their kids failed to sign in for some of their online classes.
This can lead to possible interference from government agencies to which information can be relayed including local police, social services, animal control, and the FBI.
Most of the Zoom conferencing security issues discussed in the corporate media are about “Zoom-bombing,” the hijacking of Zoom conference calls, but corporate media have been less diligent about addressing the Fourth Amendment ramifications for students of online schooling via video conferencing platforms such as Zoom.
John Whitehead, “Virtual School Hazards of a Police State Education During COVID-19,” OpEdNews.com, September 15, 2020, https://www.opednews.com/articles/1/Virtual-School-Dangers-Th-by-John-Whitehead-Covid-19_Education_Police_Surveillance-200915-799.html
Sara Morrison, “Zoom Wants to “Work Together” with the FBI. That May Not Be As Bad As It Sounds,” Vox, June 3, 2020, https://www.vox.com/recode/2020/6/3/21279285/zoom-fbi-encryption-calls-free-users
Student Researcher: Aundria De La Fuente (San Francisco State University)
Faculty Evaluator: Professor Kenn Burrows (San Francisco State University)