Schools would have to collaborate with local and state authorities, including the Georgia Information Sharing and Analysis Center, a post-9/11 “fusion center” that is the state’s primary repository for counterterrorism and criminal intelligence information. The agency collects and analyzes data and communications, assessing threats and sharing information with authorities at all levels. It would have to distribute a smartphone app, advertised on campuses and available on school websites, that allows anonymous reporting about.
State police could issue subpoenas without a court order, going through the Georgia attorney general. Phone companies, internet services and other electronic communications providers would be prohibited from telling customers about the subpoena and any records shared.
The goal, said Albers, is to “connect the dots” and “wrap our arms” around homicidal, or suicidal, students. “Sometimes information falls on deaf ears because people are busy and it's just not a focus,” he said at a House Education Committee hearing on his bill last week. The goal is prescience: "trying to stop things before they even happen.”
The inclusion of GISAC, the fusion center, was perhaps the most controversial element of SB 15. School officials with “reasonable suspicion” of student criminal activity would tell law enforcement, and the information would make its way to the agency. That raised concerns about false reports driven by personal animus or by racial or ethnic stereotypes.
Rep. Brenda Lopez Romero, D-Norcross, said the "reasonable suspicion" standard was "subjective" and "broad.” An immigration attorney, she described a recent community meeting with police where someone asked how to report boys loitering on the street: "That for some is suspicious activity,” she said at the committee hearing. “That for many of us is just boys hanging out."
Priyanka Bhatt, staff attorney for Project South, a social justice group, testified that school staff might over-report minority populations. She also was concerned that undocumented students would get ensnared in the immigration system due to the involvement of the fusion center.
Gone are two elements that produced the biggest pushback last month: one welcoming current or former military or public safety personnel into schools as "safety coaches" and another allowing unfettered collection of data on students.
The House deleted the safety coaches. A Senate committee chaired by Albers stripped the requirement that the state “curate individual student profiles.”
Concerns about privacy, and the reputational damage of false official reports, remained, though.
Amelia Vance, the director of education privacy for the Future of Privacy Forum, a nonprofit think tank in Washington that tracks state legislation, said Georgia’s proposal lacks a timeline for deleting data collected by the fusion center. And provisions allowing the data to be shared mean it could haunt innocent kids into adulthood, she said.
The legislation needs a requirement to develop guidelines for when schools should give police federally protected student records about things like disciplinary actions, she said. And it needs a requirement that officials inform parents about why a threat assessment is being done on their child.
The absence of explicit privacy provisions could result in inconsistent protection of student information, Vance said, with school employees making decisions based on their own interpretations of the law. “When privacy isn't built in, you're depending upon people on the ground."
Albers called such criticism “absurd,” saying most of this information is already being reported in a less centralized way. The volunteer firefighter said he believes authorities can safeguard the data and vet it carefully. “When there’s a problem, who does everybody call? 911,” he said. “We trust those folks.”