Thursday, November 05, 2015

Should Public Officials Be Able to Use "Ghost Messaging?"

From Education Week's Digital Education blog and the Sacramento Bee.  I'm going to print some excerpts from the article below but the entire article follows those excerpts.

But Cuban, the Cyber Dust founder, sees a different problem.

"Should [school officials] be able to discuss business at lunch? What about over the phone?" he said. "There is a place for public disclosure and transparency. But there is a place for privacy as well."

James Mayer, the CEO of good-government group California Forward, agreed. The group has not taken a formal stance on the use of ephemeral-messaging apps, but Mayer said it would be a mistake to automatically attribute nefarious motives to public officials who seek to use such a tool.

"If you really want good public services, with fewer mistakes, you have to allow managers to think out loud and consult with their peers and talk through issues with their teams," he said. "Not all communication is public record."

First, I'm not asking Mark Cuban (of Shark Tank fame) for advice on privacy and public records.

But to address the question, it depends.  In a meeting, even one between just two officials, someone could take notes. Those notes are accessible to the public.  Verbal conversation? Unless it is recorded, nothing short of getting someone on the stand would make that accessible.  (I'm no lawyer but I think that's right.)

Readers?  Your thoughts, please.


And then there was this comment from a teen:

When officials there recently blocked the app on their school Wi-Fi networks, students took to Twitter to complain.

"@WCPSS blocking snapchat just makes me dread school even more, congrats now students are even more miserable," tweeted high school student Randi Martinez.

Oh kids, it's your parents and teachers job to make your life at school miserable.  Not.  Naturally, I am kidding but honestly, no kid needs to be using their phone at school for Snapchat.

Then there's this:

Schools in the all-high-school district give every student an iPad, and teachers use social-media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter to communicate with students and families.

Readers, I put this to you - is it important to you that your child's teacher(s) communicate to either your student or you via Facebook or Twitter?  Is the school's own communications platform - either something like the Source or e-mail - not enough?  I have to wonder about the time teachers would have to put in to check e-mail and set up/check Facebook and Twitter.
entire article

Snapchat and Disappearing-Message Apps Vex Schools 

Article Tools
Schools are facing growing challenges from so-called "ephemeral messaging" apps, which allow users to send mobile-to-mobile content that disappears without a record after it has been read by the intended recipient.

Take Snapchat, which a growing number of teachers cite as a cause of classroom disruption. Some districts are moving to block student access to the popular app, which now claims more than 100 million users worldwide.

And even more vexing may be the use of such new technologies by school administrators. Is it appropriate and legal, for example, for a superintendent to conduct district business using Cyber Dust, an app the company's website boasts will let professionals communicate freely via disappearing text messages that "provide absolute discretion and can never be recovered once they're gone"?

That very situation is the source of a brewing controversy in California's 73,000-student Fresno Unified school system, where Superintendent Michael Hanson acknowledged to the Fresno Bee that he and his senior staff used the app during a time period for which the district is now under FBI investigation over no-bid construction contracts. A spokesman for the district said it is cooperating with the investigation and that staff members acted in accordance with district regulations when using the app.

Ephemeral-messaging proponents include billionaire NBA team owner and reality-TV star Mark Cuban, who founded Cyber Dust. In an email interview with Education Week, Cuban argued that new technology allows for the digital-age equivalent of a confidential face-to-face discussion.
"Hopefully, more school officials will use Cyber Dust," Cuban said. "It will allow them to have private conversations where they can be honest and productive rather than writing every message ... to protect themselves."
But legal experts say it is very much an open question whether a disappearing message sent by a public official should be considered speech, akin to a private conversation, or a textual record, such as a memorandum or email.
Until there's an established consensus, districts will continue to face a conundrum, said Phil Hartley, a partner at the Georgia law firm of Harben,

Hartley, and Hawkins, which represents school boards around the state.

"We have a belief that people have a right to view their government in operation, but the law does not guarantee the public the right to sit in the superintendent's office and hear everything he says to his staff," said Hartley, who is also a board member for the National School Boards Association's Council of School Attorneys. "This is a case where the technology, and how we use it, has far outstripped our policymakers' thinking about how to apply these considerations to the [modern] world."

Speech or Text?

Schools Prohibit Use of Snapchat in Classrooms
Should students be able to use the popular temporary-photo-sharing app Snapchat in school?

The 151,000-student Wake County district in North Carolina is among the growing ranks of districts saying "no," according to a recent report in the Raleigh-based News & Observer.

When officials there recently blocked the app on their school Wi-Fi networks, students took to Twitter to complain.

"@WCPSS blocking snapchat just makes me dread school even more, congrats now students are even more miserable," tweeted high school student Randi Martinez.

The app allows users to send photos and videos that disappear 10 seconds after they are viewed. It has frequently been associated with "sexting" and other risqué online behaviors. Proponents attribute Snapchat’s popularity to users’ growing concerns about the massive digital footprints they leave using other sites and platforms, as well as being fun and simple to use.

Wake County isn’t alone in blocking access.

Officials in District 214 in Arlington Heights, Ill., for example, say they generally believe in teaching students to responsibly use new technologies. Schools in the all-high-school district give every student an iPad, and teachers use social-media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter to communicate with students and families.

But Snapchat is different, said Keith Bockwoldt, the district’s director of technology services.
"It became so prevalent that it was really disruptive," he said. "There’s no educational value. It’s just students sending messages back and forth to each other."
Micheline Golden experienced Fresno's experiment with Cyber Dust firsthand.

During the first six weeks of Golden's recent stint as the head of communications for the district, Hanson and his four-member cabinet exchanged a steady stream of traditional text messages, she said in an interview.

But in April 2014, Golden said, she received a message from Hanson asking her to download an app she had never heard of—Cyber Dust—to her phone.

When she received her first disappearing message from her boss, she was shocked, said Golden, who has worked in public-sector communications for three decades.

"I let him know I didn't feel comfortable using it," she said. "In my opinion, communication between administrators is public. If you're intentionally using something that destroys that, it's like shredding a hard-copy record."

Golden has since resigned, and Hanson has since found himself in hot water. Last month, the Bee reported that a federal grand jury had subpoenaed district records related to the use of public bond money, as well as district officials' involvement in awarding no-bid contracts for large construction projects. The paper also first reported on administrators' use of Cyber Dust, as well as related calls from the local teachers' union and other groups for Hanson to step down over the matter.

"Four senior staff members used [Cyber Dust] for less than a month on a trial basis in the spring of 2014," said the district's chief information officer, Miguel Arias. "We discontinued it after only a handful of messages because it was not helpful or useful in our work. Staff members were within district regulations in using the app as ... we do not keep instant or text messages."

Still, Golden said, district officials who use an ephemeral-messaging app are at a minimum creating the appearance that they have something to hide. "It looks as though you're avoiding the possibility of something being discoverable," she said. Golden also warned against use of technologies that might lead public officials to assume that their professional communications will remain private forever, saying it "creates a tendency to say things that shouldn't be said."

A New Breed of Apps
Some of the more popular ephemeral-messaging apps on the market include:
Confide: This self-described "off-the-record messenger" is aimed at professionals. Encrypted messages including text or images are covered by orange blocks, as though redacted, and can be read only when the intended recipient manually scrolls over the message to temporarily reveal the contents.
Cyber Dust: Backed by billionaire Mark Cuban, this app aims to let businesspeople communicate freely via text-based messages that vanish within 20 to 100 seconds after being read by the intended recipient, leaving no digital footprint.
Signal (iOS) and Redphone/TextSecure (Android): These open-source apps from nonprofit Open Whisper Systems don’t make messages disappear, but they do offer encrypted voice- and text-messaging services for users on their existing accounts and mobile devices.
Snapchat: Boasting a reported $10 billion valuation and more than 100 million users, this app allows users to send photos and videos that disappear 10 seconds after they are viewed by the intended recipient.
School technology experts consulted by Education Week concurred, saying districts have a responsibility to use technology to promote transparency and public trust.

An Unsettled Question
But Cuban, the Cyber Dust founder, sees a different problem.

"Should [school officials] be able to discuss business at lunch? What about over the phone?" he said. "There is a place for public disclosure and transparency. But there is a place for privacy as well."

James Mayer, the CEO of good-government group California Forward, agreed. The group has not taken a formal stance on the use of ephemeral-messaging apps, but Mayer said it would be a mistake to automatically attribute nefarious motives to public officials who seek to use such a tool.

"If you really want good public services, with fewer mistakes, you have to allow managers to think out loud and consult with their peers and talk through issues with their teams," he said. "Not all communication is public record."

And when technology makes drawing such lines difficult?

"I don't think it's fair to hold anyone accountable to a standard that is not yet established," Mayer said.
For districts elsewhere, that may speak to a deeper problem.

"School [officials] are beginning to do business more and more through various kinds of technology, from email to texting to social media," said Hartley, the school board lawyer. "Policies haven't kept up, and nobody's quite sure whether [newer forms of] communication are more similar in nature to what we've thought of in the past as conversation, or what we've thought of as records."

In Fresno, for example, the superintendent and his backers have pointed out that the district is not required to store traditional text messages "for any period of time."

Such messages could conceivably be subpoenaed from the relevant phone company, or accessed in other ways, however. That's what happened to Richard Como, the former superintendent of Pennsylvania's 7,200-student Coatesville district, who was forced to resign after racist and sexist text messages he sent using a district phone were made public.

And while the makers of apps such as Cyber Dust say that messages sent over their platforms are never saved on a hard drive or server and thus aren't discoverable, those messages can in some circumstances be captured via screenshots and other means, raising a host of messy issues and questions.


What should district leaders make of all the uncertainty?

"There's a legitimate policy debate to be had here, and it's silly to think that no one is going to use these technologies," said Hartley, the school board attorney.

"But if the choice is between something you're comfortable with, where you know the rules, and something out on the cutting edge, where you don't know the rules, my advice would be to do what you're sure of."

21 comments:

mirmac1 said...

So far the texts of various staffers such as Toner, Wright and Codd have been unavailable. Something about how the texting service wipes all texts after 3 days. Sounds implausible to me. I expect staff uses their own phones. Cell providers don't wipe anything. If district provides phones then they should change these settings. The Secretary of State's retention rules should address this, if they don't already.

Anonymous said...

This is both a retention issue and a public records issue. State records retention law requires the district to keep certain types of communication for certain time periods. If I remember correctly, routine communications on day-to-day operations or activities must be retained for at least 30 days (and then can be destroyed). This would definitely include text messages.

And then under public records law, if there is a physical record (such as a text message), it is public UNLESS exempt under some provision of the law (of course, there are a lot of exemptions and they are used very liberally). Public record laws cover employees' personal email and cell phones if they are used for business purposes, so texting on your personal phone about work would expose your personal phone to public records law. Employee texts about work should be retained for AT LEAST 30 days AND should be considered public records. Using any sort of ghosting app would violate state retention laws, at the very least.

-sunshine

Anonymous said...

The District does provide phones but that doesn't stop someone from also having their own and using it, just like some have used personal email addresses for work related activities. Its entirely possible their provider has a short retention limit for CONTENT. Every vendor is different - most retain the "transmission data" - the when/who to from, transmission tower info etc for quite a while. However they do not retain the "content data" longer than 3-7 days, generally. Again, each vendor is different.

I am not a fan of the whole snapchat genre but then
a)I'm old
b)I worry about hackers getting potentially embarrassing info about my kid, which has happened in past to other users and
c)they use a LOT Of cellular data (says the evil stepmother who pays the phone bill)

Other than emergencies, I see no reason for a kid to be using their phone during the school day. And Admin folk should resist the temptation to avoid traceable public information, but everyone is human and sometimes expediency outweighs accountability. Sadly.

reader47

Anonymous said...

If the district employee or board member is conducting business over a phone via text message, whether it is a private phone or not, those text messages should be part of the public record. The Washington Supreme Court recently ruled on this issue in August, holding that the text messages on the private cell phone of Mark Lindquist, the Pierce County Prosecutor, were public records when they concerned work duties.http://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/court-texts-on-public-employees-cell-phone-public-records/. The Supreme court has consistently ruled that electronic records are public records, and it is doubtful that they would rule differently on an electronic record because it supposedly disappeared. There is a strong preference for transparency. Whether the law can keep up with technology is a different matter.

--GL

mirmac1 said...

Retention times differ for staff vs Board. With the scofflaw attitude among some staff at JSCEE, I fully expect they have the texts but tell the PRO they don't.

Anonymous said...

I would guess it's just too much work for them to figure out how to save/retain/archive text messages for district-provided phones, and just don't care about violating the law when it comes to personal phones.

-sunshine

NW mom said...

Sorry, off topic but apparently there is a lockdown happening at Ballard HS right now. Lights are off and lockdown messages over the loudspeaker. Hope everyone is safe.

NW mom said...

SWAT team has arrived.

Anonymous said...

Cory Minderhout ‏@CoryMinderhout 10m10 minutes ago
BREAKING: SPS says report of student with a weapon near Ballard HS. Student taken into custody. No weapon recovered. #liveonkomo

bhs mom

NW mom said...

Thank goodness. Thanks BHS mom.

Anonymous said...

Public Schools confirmed on Thursday.
SPS does not believe SPD found a weapon on him but are looking inside the school.
KIRO 7 News is working to learn more about the incident. This story will be updated once details are received.

http://www.kirotv.com/news/news/ballard-hs-student-arrested-campus/npG6h/

Anonymous said...

oops got cut off..

Ballard HS student arrested off campus

A Ballard High School student was arrested off campus, Seattle Public Schools confirmed on Thursday.
SPS does not believe SPD found a weapon on him but are looking inside the school.
KIRO 7 News is working to learn more about the incident. This story will be updated once details are received..

http://www.kirotv.com/news/news/ballard-hs-student-arrested-campus/npG6h/

NW mom said...

It's not over, apparently.

Seattle Police Department's SWAT Team are currently in a stand off with two suspects at the Taco Bell on 15th Avenue N.W. in Ballard.

The suspect(s) have been described as one or two white males ages 15 to 16.

Police have locked down Ballard High School and have been instructed to send students away who are coming back to the school.

Dorthy Gale said...

It seems only fair that since every new school board member ran on "transparency", they should on their own, make every one of their communications publicly available.

Each board member should setup a web site and automatically up load every email and text or document they generate. Redaction should be limited to FERPA only.

Dear public information officer,

Please send me all the emails to and from each school board director for the weeks of December 1st - December 12th. Please consider this a recurring a bi-month request.

Anonymous said...

Snapchat has caused issues at Hale, with students using it to bully other students. The students couldn't be held accountable because it disappeared and there was no proof even though multiple witnesses saw it. The bullied students have been taught how to take screenshots of everything in case the issue occurs again. I don't believe the snapchat posts occurred during school hours, so there was not much the school could do other than give a stern talking to the bullies.

HP

Patrick said...

I wouldn't put my job or reputation on the line under the impression that there could never be a breach of security in the "one time only" messaging services, that no one could ever break the encryption used on the transmission, that no one would photograph or otherwise record the message as it was displayed.

No problem with cutting off use of chat media in school. Sorry if that offends students who'd rather be chatting online than paying attention to the teacher or studying.

GarfieldMom said...

Twitter and Facebook are terrible ways to keep in touch with teens. They have largely moved on from those platforms, if they even used them in the first place. Snapchat is where it's at for social media.

But they still text like crazy. My kid's counselor at Garfield is using a texting platform to connect with kids and parents. It's totally opt-in, and as I understand it, it doesn't expose either sender or receiver's phone number to the other. We've only gotten a couple of texts, just important information right when you need it. I think it's great.

Anonymous said...

our first grade teachers use the Class Dojo app to communicate behavior to parents (by adding points) and do daily Twitter updates. Too much like Big Brother. I dont like it, especially for first grade.

SF said...

I agree Twitter and Facebook are terrible ways to keep in touch with teens. My daughter had a few teachers who said they would be your Facebook friend after you graduate, not until then. I think that is a fine policy. Teachers need to be able to have separate lives from their profession at least sometimes.

Eric B said...

My earlier comment seems to have gotten lost, so reposting:

It's a terrible idea for any public official to use ghost messaging. If nothing else, people will assume you're up to something nefarious (see a nice example right at the top of the thread). Long ago, my bosses at City of Bellevue told me that I shouldn't put anything in an email I didn't want to explain to a city council meeting. If you're doing something you don't want publicly disclosed, pick up the phone! And seriously reconsider whether you want to say it if you can't stand behind it.

Anonymous said...

Agree with SF. Any sort of Facebook/Twitter policy also assumes every kid has unbridled access to both the internet and these social media platforms. Call me naive (no kids yet), but maybe some parents don't allow their kids to have accounts on FB or Twitter? And maybe not every kid has internet access at home? It just seems like an unnecessary thing. And yes, teachers should absolutely be able to draw boundaries between work and personal. If I was a teacher, I would NOT friend any of my students EVER.

-sunshine