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Friday, Sep 29, 2023

Smart Security or Big Brother? Proximity Cards Would Undermine Community Trust

Author: Felipe Colon & Alexander Lorido

In November, a student at Middlebury College was assaulted in his dorm room. The student body has been led to believe it was a random act of violence. We have been led to believe that we are no longer safe in our homes. We now know the truth regarding the events in November. The administration has used this isolated incident as a pretext for implementing rash policies that might otherwise be deemed unacceptable by the College community. The result has been immediate implementation of what is known on campus as the 'lockdown.' Campus-wide outrage has led College officials to acknowledge that the current situation can only serve as a temporary measure; a more palatable solution must be found.

Concerning the recent security panic, where do we, as a community, turn? The administration believes Strategic Technology Group is the answer to the community's needs. What is Strategic Technology Group? The founder and president of the Boston-based consulting firm, Dr. Adam Thermos, describes what his business does and why colleges should seek his services in an article titled "Why Should Schools Use Consultants and How to Work Effectively with Them: The Gospel According to Adam." In the opening of the article Thermos declares, "A consultant is your hired gun. His primary responsibility is to protect you from friendly fire and from hostile fire." He concludes with a powerful summation of what his company offers an administration: "In the theater of academic warfare, a consultant can be your very own bullet-proof vest." For example, Thermos recommends "staggered phasing paths" concerning the implementation of this system. In other words, gradually phasing in the system will prevent community backlash, as Thermos admits, "… even within the captive University communities the reaction to these automated systems can be swift and adverse and always volatile."

The standard capabilities of the system the College is planning to purchase include not only locking and unlocking the doors, but also providing the College with a record of the movement of students, faculty and staff throughout campus.

Every time an individual enters or exits a building, or uses the card in any other manner, an access control device transmits data from the proximity card to a central computer.

This central computer creates a permanent record of personal information, ranging from simple purchases to one's physical whereabouts throughout one's career at the College. What is presented as a convenience is in reality a highly sophisticated control apparatus. Due to the aesthetically acceptable nature of the system, the individual may not even be aware of the surveillance as it occurs.

As the College moves to hire Strategic Management Group to install a "proximity card" system, one might question its effects upon the sense of community at Middlebury. The creation of the commons system was praised as means to foster a sense of community on campus. This sense of community relies upon trust. Here at Middlebury we count on each other for many things, especially safety. Trust is the cornerstone of our security as a community in the same manner that it is in our Honor Code.

It is true that the "proximity card" system will reduce deviance on campus, just as surveillance cameras would reduce cheating. Are we willing to construct a system that undermines the same community it claims to protect? As the nation turns toward high-tech surveillance and control to solve its problems, the Middlebury College community must buck the trend.

It must stand as a bastion of trust, mutual respect and solidarity. It will not be easy, for an open society is a vulnerable society, but we must not abandon the values that have brought our community to where it is today.