Pasco County Sheriff's School 'Pre-Crime' Program Is Violating Federal Privacy Laws

from the arrest-thyself dept

Predictive policing has spread from the streets to the school house, bringing with it everything that's screwed up about it. But this time it targets minors, turning missed school days, low grades, and exposure to domestic abuse into criminal predicates.

This subjects minors to the same harassment that currently targets adults in the Pasco County (FL) Sheriff's jurisdiction. The pre-crime program run by the Sheriff allows deputies to swarm houses late at night to harass residents and write them citations for missing mailbox numbers or overgrown grass. There's nothing in this program that appears to target serious or violent crime. Instead, as the Sheriff has stated, the goal is to make people miserable enough that they "sue or leave the county."

This same mentality now plagues Pasco County schools. And there's more to it than a lifetime of petty harassment that now begins while residents are still minors. Not only is it pretty messed up to predetermine students' criminal histories using a handful of questionable indicators and an Excel spreadsheet, it also appears to be illegal. The Pasco County Sheriff's Office seems to have bypassed asking itself any tough questions about turning bad students into criminals. It also appears to have avoided running this program past its in-house counsel.

Subjecting students to the Sheriff Office's "juvenile intelligence analysts" isn't as straightforward as the Pasco Sheriff thinks. There are laws governing the sharing of school records -- both at state and federal levels. And the Sheriff's Office -- the personification of "rule of law" -- appears to be violating federal law, according to analysis by Student Privacy Compass.

From the supplied documentation, the Sheriff’s Office’s current data practices violate not only its contract with the school board but also the privacy protections required by the federal education privacy law, FERPA. School Resource Officers (SROs) cannot share student information to their local law enforcement office without consent if that disclosure fails to meet an exception to FERPA’s parental consent requirement.

The program has run in secret since its inception. It was exposed by public records requests. Parents aren't notified when their children are flagged as potential criminals. And, it can safely be assumed interactions with police officers on school campuses aren't forwarded to parents, nor are they given a chance to intercede on behalf of their children.

The Sheriff Office's predictive policing database shares data the Office isn't allowed to share with other employees. Federal privacy laws may allow schools to share students' personal information with deputies tasked as "school resource officers," but it does not allow those officers to share that data with the Sheriff's Office.

It’s important to note that although SROs do receive student PII from an education record under the school official exception, sharing student PII with an SRO is very different from sharing student PII with a teacher. Most SROs are employed by a school in tandem with the sheriff’s office—becoming an SRO at a local school does not change the fact that the SRO is still an external law enforcement officer. SROs must segment how they absorb student PII: the student PII they receive as a school official cannot be redisclosed to their sheriff’s office or police department without parental consent, unless that disclosure meets an appropriate exception to the parental consent requirement (in the event of a health or safety emergency or in response to a subpoena or other judicial order).

The exceptions to FERPA do not appear to apply to routine data gathering solely for the purpose of "predicting" whether students will go on to commit crimes. There are exceptions for investigating legitimate threats to school safety, but an ongoing program that turns a bunch of ridiculous "predicates" into an excuse for SROs and deputies to harass students obviously isn't limiting itself to known exceptions to federal privacy laws.

Instead, it seems the Sheriff's Office appears to have opportunistically leveraged a school shooting to create an school-centric surveillance program, bypassing privacy laws with the blessing of schools in its jurisdiction. And it's using the same thought process that allows it to oppress locals it finds undesirable. But this time it's targeting locals under the age of consent.

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Filed Under: ferpa, florida, pasco county, pasco county sheriff, pre-crime, privacy, sro, student resource officer


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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Dec 2020 @ 6:29am

    Protecting and Serving who?

    Instead, as the Sheriff has stated, the goal is to make people miserable enough that they "sue or leave the county."

    So the local sheriff is actively making the lives of the citizens, he's supposed to serve and protect, miserable by his own admission.

    And people want to know why they have elevated crime rates.....

    Also, the FERPA hammer will hit home on this one the second it winds up in federal court. It's a blatant violation of the law, and the school officials who engaged in this willingly should be recalled and held legally liable on a personal level.


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