Technology opens up options. And closes things in.
It can be both beneficial and harmful.
It can be used for privacy, or for the safety and security of the general population.
It can bring people together, and yet divide them even further.
It presents a variety of extreme cases, of the traditional “good vs evil” comparison, and it has been the center of a multitude of hot-topic debates at a variety of levels.
One such debate is encryption. Recently, Apple has been in a security-related argument with the FBI regarding their encryption policies. As described by John Oliver in the following video, Apple’s encryption program on its devices are so hard to crack that the FBI and different police agencies can’t even access information on them regarding criminal activity once they have been confiscated.
After watching this video, I really began to wonder: what’s more important, safety or privacy? At what point are we willing to give up our privacy, in order to be provided with safety from our government?
I remember presenting this argument – or something similar – at the beginning of the year with my students when we were speaking to the federal election. After completing Vote Compass, we had a discussion regarding the role and power of government when looking into Internet activities. Students were all in agreement that the government should be able to protect us by any means; however, when I brought up that it meant they could monitor their internet usage and go into their phones, suddenly some opinions tended to shift. It’s interesting to see how security is an utmost priority, until our personal privacy is offered in exchange. It is a similar discussion when it comes to encryption. It seems obvious to agree that the FBI or Apple should be able to unlock terrorist or criminal phones in order to protect society. It’s the flip side, the other aspects that we have to consider. If they can unlock those phones, well, they can unlock all phones. Our information, our private conversations, our everyday lives, will be vulnerable to everyone. As John Oliver says, hackers are always just one step behind Apple. Reducing encryption safety opens the doors for others to break into the devices that have come to organize our lives and hold most of our important information.
This is but one hot topic relating to technology. Facebook’s Free Internet Service, a truly humanitarian idea developed by Facebook to bring even the most basic internet service everywhere in the world, is another. Humanitarian in principle, some say this free service actually emphasizes internet service inequalities that already exist. A great idea in theory, but it can create (or more so reflect) social tiers in society, by categorizing people according to the amount or the type of internet they can access. Cortney Harding reiterates this notion by speaking to the new digital divide that exists in our society: the one where the rich can afford unlimited access to all information, and the poor get second fiddle. This is not simply a division between developed and developing countries; within Canada, there is an ever-present digital divide between the rich and the poor for reasons related to money, access, and adoption.
These ideas always bring us to the concept of net neutrality, an important idea within education. Jessy Irwin explains how losing net neutrality would mean inequality in the speed of Internet access, as well as the open sources that exist online for students to conduct research. Without net neutrality, volunteer-run or smaller publishing companies would become less visited, as others with the funds would be able to buy access into schools. Not only would these companies and resources be relegated to second-tier access, but our students would be provided with less information, less free and open education resources, for their personal and academic research. Could they develop the same critical thinking and analysis abilities in such contexts as they could with net neutrality?
So what do these hot-topic debates mean for our students? What does encryption, net neutrality, and the new digital divide have to do with our educational system? These kinds of conversations require higher levels of thinking; they require students to reflect on their needs, on society’s needs, and to come to a conclusion of what’s best for the world. There are no right or wrong answers; these are perspectives, opinions based on facts. Informing students of what’s going on in the world around them not only engages them in their learning because of the practicality of the content, but it emphasizes and encourages critical thinking. It has a particularly critical impact when the injustices are linked closely to home.
So although I know I am supposed to reflect on the content being shared this week – perhaps of my own opinions on the matter – I can’t help but think of the ways I can incorporate this information into my classroom. I am constantly thinking of ways to incorporate Social Justice content into my lessons; using resources like Free the Children helps students understand that the world around them is larger than they may realize, and how fortunate they are to be living in a country that values things like education and health care. However, our country is not perfect, nor completely equal. Knowledge of this is also key to the development of empowered Canadian citizens. Technology is a piece of this Social Justice puzzle that can emphasize inequality, between countries and within them. Working through these topics with students can educate them on technological extremes, helping them view grey areas in between the good and the bad, and understand larger social concerns in our near society and our world.
So what do I think about this new digital divide? What are my thoughts on encryption, and safety versus privacy? Still deciding. This week was the first I had heard of these concepts. To develop an educated opinion, I will need to explore these ideas further, read on the different viewpoints that exist, and find my proper research. What’s better, I will be able to do it with my students as well. Learning together; that’s one of the best ways to explore technology debates in the classroom.