Wired News : A Chilling Wave Hits Schools
pjones at metalab.unc.edu
Wed Apr 5 10:19:41 EDT 2000
NC's ACLU chapter responds to WAVE and others weigh in including
Junkbusters and National Violence Against Women Prevention Research Center
From Wired News, available online at:
A Chilling Wave Hits Schools
by Lynn Burke
3:00 a.m. Apr. 5, 2000 PDT
That word never fails to dredge up thoughts of misery and terror since the
student massacre left 15 dead just over one year ago. And there's nothing
quite like fear to open up the path for new rules and regulations, new
policies and plans.
That might explain why North Carolina has quietly launched a program that
allows students to call in anonymously or fill out a Web-based form to
report on classmates who might appear depressed or angry -- or who just
The WAVE program -- Working Against Violence Everywhere -- is being
offered to all middle and high schools in North Carolina. The website,
Waveamerica.com, and the hotline are operated by Pinkerton Services Group,
a subsidiary of Pinkerton Securities.
Here's how it works. A classmate brags about bringing a gun to school. He
says he's going to do something serious. Everyone laughs and blows him
off. But one student is worried. So she logs onto the site and fills out a
form describing what she just heard. Or she picks up the phone and calls
the hotline, and tells an operator as much as she can remember.
Because this situation would be considered immediately dangerous, a
Pinkerton employee would immediately call the school's contact person, no
matter what time it is, and relay the message. The rest is in the school's
The program has the wholehearted support of North Carolina Governor James
B. Hunt. Of North Carloina's roughly 800 middle and high schools, about 50
are participating in WAVE, but it's unclear how many students have used
the program since it began Feb. 10, Pinkerton officials said.
"This program will go a long way toward reinforcing ethical
responsibility, teaching the early warning signs of threatening behavior,
and opening channels of communication that foster positive action," Hunt
said in a statement, "and it is the right thing to do."
But civil liberties and privacy advocates say that in the interest of the
elusive goal of protection, civil rights -- especially those of kids --
have been pushed aside.
Marty Greer, legal committee chair of the American Civil Liberties Union
in North Carolina, called the program "horrifying."
She said WAVE is a knee-jerk reaction that does little to address the
source of violence. Another aspect of the program that troubles some
observers is the manner in which it recruits young participants.
"Sign up for the WAVE, and free email isn't the only perk you'll receive!"
the site reads. "If you're a middle or high school student in North
Carolina, you could also win a free computer! And that's just the first of
many prizes you'll be eligible for as a participant in the WAVE."
A student doesn't actually have to ever use the tip line or file a report
to participate in the program. But some observers fear a 12-year-old child
might not understand that, and be persuaded to "use the system" more
frequently to win prizes.
"They're basically buying information," Greer said. "A 12-year-old child
is going to say, 'Oh, I'll make a report!'"
Even more troubling, critics say, is the site's lack of a firm privacy
policy, especially in light of the new federal Children's Online Privacy
Protection Act that will go into effect April 21. Under the new law,
websites must get parents' consent before they collect, use, or disclose
personal information from children under 13.
Jason Catlett, CEO of Junkbusters, said that the site's Web-based
reporting form violates the law.
"Their form asks for the identity of a person who may be a child, and
Congress has already agreed that the identity of a child requires special
protection," he said.
And though the form specifies that identifying information is optional,
Catlett said that's not good enough.
"Most children have no sense of when they should protect their identity,"
The email program also doesn't comply with COPPA. A reporter who
identified herself as an 11-year-old girl was still able to sign up for
free email, which was only available after she gave up her state, gender,
age, and selected educational and vocational goals.
The site has yet to post a privacy statement, but Pinkerton Vice President
Jim Powell said it will do so within the week, and will bring the site
into full compliance with COPPA.
Powell says the program in no way violates students' rights. "Invasion
would mean we're doing something to you. And we're not," he said.
Rather, he says, WAVE helps teach them responsibility and respect. "It's
really an ethics program," he said. School security expert Ken Trump, CEO
of National School Safety and Security Services, said WAVE is simply one
component of a school-wide strategy that needs to be in place in order to
prevent and deal with violence.
"There is no panacea, there is no single strategy that's going to work,"
"One of the things we've learned from Columbine is that somewhere ahead of
time, someone had some info," he said. "It's important that we create some
type of mechanism for students to report any information they have about
But child violence expert Nan Stein said programs like WAVE are
unnecessary and intrusive.
"I'm really opposed to this stuff. This is profiling of students," said
Stein, co-director of the National Violence Against Women Prevention
Research Center at Wellesley College.
She said her research on students and bullying behavior shows that more
and more kids are reporting bullying to their teachers, making an
anonymous tip line unnecessary. "It's sort of antithetical to the need for
strong-arm tactics of a police state like this," she said.
ACLU's Greer agreed that WAVE is way over the line.
"Our big concern would be, what do the schools do with the information? I
think that should be of concern to people everywhere," she said. "The
overarching issue is student rights. After Columbine, those have been
taking a real hit."
In fact, a number of schools started using toll-free tip lines before
Columbine entered the national lexicon.
A Columbus, Ohio-based security company, Security Voices, began offering
its Safe School Helpline in early 1998 to a suburban school district in
Ohio. Today, 4,000 public school districts in 17 states are using it.
Unlike WAVE, the Safe School Helpline is actually a voice message system
that records anonymous messages and is then accessed by employees who
transcribe the messages and fax their contents to the appropriate schools.
Security Voices Vice President Jim Jones said it's easier for students
"It's non-threatening, in that there's not a live person on the other
end," he said.
Security Voices has been successful in such states as West Virginia,
Idaho, and Ohio. But it will face competition from Pinkerton, which merged
with Securitas in March 1999, to form the world's largest security
company. Both companies have plenty of experience running telephone
hotlines for corporate clients.
As fear of school violence continues to spread, corporate security
companies are likely to move into the school systems with increasing
vigor. Though a recent government report shows overall school crime rates
are declining, multiple homicides in schools are on the rise.
Related Wired Links:
Site Spooks New Jersey School
Mar. 23, 2000
In Search of Safer Schools
Jan. 17, 2000
All Eyes on Columbine
Aug. 14, 1999
Click Here for Safe Surfing
May. 5, 1999
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