The “misunderstanding and overapplication of privacy laws,” the report argues, contributed to school officials and the FBI failing to act on the red flags on Cruz’s record, among them: photos of guns posted to his Instagram in the weeks before the shooting, prior medical treatment for severe behavioral issues, and viewing a series of YouTube videos titled “I put spongebob music over a school shooting.”
Cruz’s case is exceptional, and privacy scholars caution that at the scale of hundreds of students, differentiating between online behavior that is troubling or immature and actions that are criminally threatening isn’t easy. Amelia Vance, the director of education privacy and policy at the Future of Privacy Forum, told me that besides privacy concerns, enhanced social-media monitoring misses the point.
“An interesting aspect of the Florida case is that those signs were seen and they were reported; they just weren’t acted on. And so to act as though more monitoring is the answer seems an odd solution,” she said. Vance provided public comment on the Department of Education’s federal report on school safety, which also called for social-media monitoring and enhanced data collection. Both the federal report and the one by MSDHS’s school-safety commission call for easing FERPA and HIPAA laws, which restrict access to private student data.
“This is significant, new data collection that could create the literal permanent record of students doing stupid things online without any sorts of protections on how long that’s kept and who can access it,” Vance said.
But Parkland’s parents told me they’re more concerned about doing anything they can to prevent another mass shooting than with unintended consequences. Max Schachter’s son, Alex, was killed during the shooting. Schachter is part of the group of parents and officials that coordinated the Department of Justice grant application, but he says camera surveillance alone, though essential to a coordinated police response, won’t save lives.
“Are cameras going to prevent a murderer from walking on campus with an AR-15? Of course not,” he said. To him, the proposals don’t go far enough. “I am certainly in favor of advanced camera systems, but I doubt the systems are in place to be able to utilize an advanced camera system in Broward County,” Schachter said. “If you don’t have the right people, train the right staff, and a crime center and [safety] procedures in place, you basically have $600,000 worth of cameras that are basically just gonna be forensics to identify dead bodies.”
Alhadeff explained that since the shooting, she and other school-board members have been working to implement recommendations from varying sources: the commission’s report, along with a risk-assessment report from Safe Haven, a security company, and a federal report from the Trump Administration. Proposed changes include a new PA system, fire alarms, radios, apps to report anonymous tips, and additional training for teachers and staff.
“It’s not a Happy Meal package,” Alhadeff said. “People think you get your cameras and you’re ready to go, you’re safe. It’s our job to implement all these strategies, but we’re up for the job.”