Local homeland security surveilling students after school fights

Hi all,

I have a new story published in The Intercept looking at the revelation that public schools in Prince George’s County, MD, a predominantly black suburb of D.C., have been partnering with a homeland security division in its local police department for “student safety” purposes. The news was casually disclosed by school officials following recent fights that broke out in October, and officials mentioned that Homeland Security would be monitoring student social media in response.

This raised a lot of immediate red flags. What kind of data are they looking for, how long will it be retained, and who is it shared with? Local law enforcement and the federal Department of Homeland Security — which was only created after 9/11 but is now the largest federal law enforcement agency — have all sorts of “gang” or “suspicious persons” databases, and once you’re on there, it can be very hard to get off (or even know you’ve been added in the first place.) People have been added for all sorts of trivial and baseless reasons, but being put on such databases can lead to prioritization for other enforcement actions, like deportation. The school district clarified to me this was the Homeland Security division housed within the Prince George’s County Police Department, but part of the reason these units exist is to facilitate easier collaboration between state + federal law enforcement.

I reached out to local and national experts to ask if they’d heard about this kind of thing before. While there has been some uptick in homeland security getting involved with schools following Parkland and other school shootings, experts said they had not heard before about this kind of surveillance following regular old school brawls. "

The various agencies I contacted either didn’t respond to questions or referred me to other people who then didn’t answer questions. But a spokesperson for the district confirmed in an email that "We contact Prince George's County Homeland Security office regularly for assistance when it comes to ensuring student safety.” (bolded emphasis mine.) One parent featured in the story has FOIA requests pending, so hopefully more information will come out, but it seems unlikely that this is the only community where this is happening.

You can read the story here.

Share Rachel's Notebook