The Surveillance Technology Oversight Project (S.T.O.P.), a New York-based privacy group, commends the New York City Department of Education (DOE) for banning the use of Zoom videoconferencing for remote instruction.
Zoom has had privacy violations including interruptions from racists, white supremacists, and the hijacking of individuals’ cameras. Many recorded Zoom calls have been accessible to the public including recordings of children, explicit content, and private medical information. Images and recordings are being captured and used by others without their consent and children are being exposed to targeted harassment. Zoom is also under investigation by the New York State Attorney General. Zoom deceived the public, misrepresented their privacy and encryption practices.
DOE officials urged New York City’s 75,000 teachers to migrate to Microsoft Teams video conferencing but S.T.O.P. noted that this new software may have similar vulnerabilities. S.T.O.P Executive Director Albert Fox Cahn says “Microsoft Teams addresses some of the issues that we’ve seen in recent weeks. It’s unclear if it has the level of encryption that we would want for software being used in an educational environment.”
S.T.O.P. litigates and advocates for privacy, fighting excessive local and state-level surveillance. Their work highlights the discriminatory impact of surveillance on Muslim Americans, immigrants and communities of color. S.T.O.P is evaluating several different options for the best video platform to be used for remote learning. There are open-source solutions like Jitsi and platforms with better security like Virtual Summit. S.T.O.P is not prepared to endorse any one product as being the best solution. They are merely providing generalized caution and the shortcomings of Zoom and Microsoft Teams.
New York’s students need a safe learning environment, Cahn says, “We are encouraging every educational institution, K-12, college, law schools to really ensure that they’re taking every measure they can to protect student privacy. That includes using the most privacy protected platform they can but also strengthening use of passwords, encryptions, and other safeguards.”