JCR investigates college surveillance

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St Anne’s JCR has passed a mandate to investigate the data collected by college officials as to the security and whereabouts of students. The motion “to determine the full extent of data collected on students and work with college authorities to remove such concerns” was passed with an overwhelming majority after the installation of electronic fobs within the college.

St Anne’s IT officer, Joshua Clark, was voted by students to demand the information from college, if such information exists. The college may be legally required to submit such information to their students under the Data Protection Act of 1988 in which organisations are obliged to share the data they hold. In the case of the keyfobs which have been introduced at St Anne’s, as well as being commonplace at other colleges across the University, the data being stored could include the whereabouts of students at all times they are in St Anne’s premises.

Anna Zanetti, domestic representative of the JCR, has previously asked St Anne’s College for the reasons behind the decision to replace the code system with the electronic one but received no explanation. Zanetti added: “I’ve never asked him [the St Anne’s bursar] anything about the potential use of our data or the potential tracking of students, mainly because I’ve never thought that was something you could do with fobs.” The JCR proposal included the possibility “that the data of student movement/access is being retained” and the fact that “no information has been given as to its extent.”

This current lack of information as to the holding of the data is one of the reasons Joshua Clark has been voted to investigate the details behind this security system. Clark told The Oxford Student: “I further disagree that the keyfobs are better for security. Ultimately there’s no perfect security system and those that want access can only be delayed. The keyfobs only remove the necessity for remembering St Anne’s infamous number of keycodes.”

Under section 10 of the Data Protection Act, there exists the “right to prevent processing from being likely to cause damage or distress.” One of the aspects of the motion was the allegations that at unspecified colleges in Cambridge, the comings and goings of students was monitored by the college staff. The rumours that “some colleges with such systems have been known to monitor the time spent in the library by its students, with the decanal team getting involved if students do not meet minimum limits” were overheard at the Oxbridge student conferences earlier this year in which Cambridge students met Oxford students to promote outreach events and access to prospective students.

The JCR majority agreed that “student monitoring is only going to increase academic pressure and stifle personal development.”

When contacted, the St Anne’s Domestic Bursar Martin Jackson said that he was due to meet with the JCR President and her colleague to discuss the matter. He was unable to make further comment.

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