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Remote Education Does Not Require Giving Up Rights to Freedom and Privacy

Zoe Kooyman, FSF:

As countries around the world are beginning their long and slow recovery from the coronavirus, schools and universities may have to continue their struggle to give their students a quality education while using remote communication services until the end of the year. With the need to continue classes and exams, school administrators have ended up relying on proprietary conference tools like Zoom to stay connected, and are unfortunately turning to contracting proctoring businesses with names like ProctorU, Proctorio, and Examity to monitor testing and exams.

The increased use of proprietary test-administering software is a dangerous development, both because of the software's proprietary nature, and because of its inherent purpose of exposing a student's, or in some cases a family's, data to the proctor. In schemes like these, the user ends up sacrificing both personal information and biometric data. Because the software is proprietary, there's no possibility of understanding how it works -- besides leaking personal data, it could also create security concerns or deliver bad quality tests (and results). Requiring students to cede control over their entire computer to a test proctoring company is fundamentally unjust. Worse, we cannot be sure that any of these nonfree software dependencies and their accompanying surveillance techniques will be rolled back after social distancing guidelines are no longer enforced.

It is important that decisions made in the education sector are first and foremost ethically motivated. Here at the Free Software Foundation (FSF), we have started a free communications working group. Initiatives include a remote communication email list, as well as a collaborative resource page for documenting and sharing free communication tools to help spread awareness of the ethical choices that can be made. We have also been assisting educational professionals in offering their classes online using only free software. And we have been reading many stories about activism in education from the larger community, and want to share those with you. They have inspired and motivated us. We need more people like this around the world to be vocal and critical about infringements on user freedom in the area of remote learning.

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