The Naviance data breach: a lesson to MCPS


Dec. 25, 2019, 11:10 p.m. | By Boaz Yoo | 4 weeks ago

Because ethics went out the door


Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) has been eager to adopt the newest educational technologies, unveiling an initiative to introduce 40,000 laptops and tablets to students in 2014 and introducing myMCPS to the school system in 2017. But one thing is for sure: they are behind on preparing students for the moral dilemmas they now face.

Compared to the rate at which MCPS has been adopting the latest technologies, the county has been sorely lacking in providing the necessary ethics education to complement such growth. Technology has the power to do both good and harm, and without ethics classes, students do not always make the right choice.

Photo: The perpetrator is no longer some hooded soul in a dark basement. It could be the student sitting right next to you (courtesy of Wikimedia Commons).

The mere idea of a student masterminding a digital accident is scary to envision, but that is exactly what happened on Oct. 3 . An unnamed MCPS student hacked into Naviance and stole personal information from 1,343 students at Wheaton High School. Forensic analysis of the student's devices later showed the number was closer to 6,000 across six MCPS high schools.

The perpetrator is not some hooded soul behind a dark screen but could be the student sitting right next to you; this is what happens when ethics goes out the door. We must introduce ethics into the MCPS curriculum as a graduation requirement. Instead of spending $3 million on 40,000 laptops, MCPS should invest in recruiting qualified instructors to teach tech ethics in all 26 high schools.

A quick survey of MCPS high school courses shows that ethics education is spread out in various electives that may or may not count towards graduation requirements. Such electives include Introduction to Networking , Advanced Business Management A and Research Design . Of the many courses, IB Information Technology in a Global Society A/B is the only class that focuses on the ethics of technology. And upon closer inspection, this particular International Baccalaureate (IB) class is not even offered at any of the high schools that award the IB diploma.

If MCPS really wants to stay on top of the game by preparing students for the future, adding tech ethics to the list of graduation requirements is essential. Search "tech" on Google and you will find mentions of privacy concerns in new products and rumors of "digital watchdogs." Here and there, we see government and industry coming together to discuss the ethics of artificial intelligence, the ethics of self-driving cars, the list goes on.

Blair cybersecurity teacher Vickie Wright emphasizes how ethics education is becoming increasingly important as new technology develops. "Keep in mind, computer science and cybersecurity, these are fields that are new and quickly evolving, so topics like ethics are becoming an essential part of your education," Wright says.

A detailed inventory of tech ethics courses across multiple universities shows that tech ethics is an interdisciplinary venture, one that benefits not just the future tech geek but everyone. Below are just a few of the courses that are offered at Georgetown University and beyond, along with their associated departments.

  • Governing Emerging Technologies (Georgetown University; Communication, Culture, Technology)
  • Exploring the Ethical Questions of New Technology (University of Washington, Communication)

Wright agrees that taking tech ethics is necessary for future technologists."As a graduation requirement for computer science [and] computer tech majors, I think that [tech ethics] is starting to become a need because [of] some of the things you hear on the news now about what is happening with algorithms," Wright says.

But why is tech ethics essential to life after high school? On the techie's side, it is about power and trust. Technologists have the power to do harm, but practice restraint because they are aware of the moral responsibility that comes with such power. On the consumer side, it is about awareness. To be a smart consumer, it is important to keep in mind the ethical questions tech giants consider before building a product. Being a smart consumer means knowing the potential dangers that come with using such a product.

This is responsible teaching. Let the Naviance data breach be a lesson to MCPS. Let this year's data breach be the last violation of the ethical limits of technology committed in MCPS by MCPS students.

Last updated: Dec. 30, 2019, 11:18 p.m.


Tags: ethics Naviance MCPS technology

Boaz Yoo. Hi. I am a staff writer for SCO. I enjoy practicing martial arts, playing tennis, and writing articles for SCO. More »

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