Huntsville, Alabama Schools Have Been Secretly Monitoring Students' Social Media Since Phone Call From NSA

Aaron Homer

If you have children enrolled in any of the schools in the Huntsville, Alabama, school district, there's a very real possibility that their principal has been spying on their social media accounts because the NSA told them to, The Birmingham News is reporting.

Whether the National Security Agency (NSA) ever made such a call is a matter of dispute (more on that below), but one thing is clear: The Huntsville School District has been operating a system of monitoring students' Facebook and other social media posts, via a program called Students Against Fear (SAFe), for at least 18 months.

Ostensibly, the SAFe program is designed to identify students who may be at risk for gang activity or possible school violence. The program has been scanning students' social media posts looking for guns, gang signs, or language that indicates threats.

At least four students have been identified and either expelled or placed into alternative programs thanks to SAFe.

Huntsville Schools security official Al Laknford said he received a telephone call from the NSA saying that a male student had threatened to injure a teacher. The student was also allegedly in communication with a group purporting to be from the Middle Eastern nation of Yemen.

"We found a very good size knife and the student was expelled... There was a foreign connection."

For their part, the NSA is denying ever making such a phone call, as well as denying being involved in spying on high school students.

"The National Security Agency has no record that it passed any information to the Huntsville school district, and the description of what supposedly occurred is inconsistent with NSA's practices... Moreover, NSA does not make recommendations regarding school safety programs."

Tech Dirt writer Tim Cushing, while admitting he's no fan of the NSA, isn't buying the Huntsville Schools official's story.

"What likely happened was some civilian reported the threat and name-dropped the security agency in order to boost credibility. Or a student prank went horribly right. But school district reps aren't backing down from this highly-unlikely narrative. The superintendent thinks it's legit because there was a terrorism nexus."

Further, when asked about the supposed NSA link to the SAFe program, the Huntsville District School Board had heard of neither the monitoring program nor the suspected NSA connection, according to The Birmingham News.

Regardless of whether or not the NSA is involved, the fact remains that the Huntsville schools have been monitoring their students' social media activities. And some parents are okay with that, according to a Birmingham News editorial.

"I could care less if HCS monitors my kids' access with the schools computers. If it keeps them safe or potentially stops a future crime, than (sic) I'm for it. They're adolescents, not adults; they don't have the freedoms we have, nor should they."

The Huntsville School District is far from the only school district to monitor its students' internet activity. According to this Inquisitr report, a Philadelphia school district took things even further by spying on what the children were doing in their own bedrooms via webcams installed on school-issued laptop computers.

Do you believe that the Huntsville Schools really got a call from the NSA? Do school official have the right to monitor their students' social media activity? Let us know what you think below.

[Image courtesy of: PBS]