Privacy And Protection

The goal is a good one: to head off a rampage like the one last April at Colorado's Columbine High School. But the method has privacy advocates and some parents worried Big Brother may be watching too closely.

Twenty-five schools across the nation are working with federal agents to test a computer program they hope will identify students likely to turn violent. Mosaic 2000 evaluates a series of questions teachers must answer about troublesome students. It then rates the pupils' potential for violence on a scale of one to ten.

Many school administrators insist this is a useful tool, a way to tell the difference between a serious threat and a less harmful one. But some parents worry their kids could be unfairly labeled as problem students based on incomplete or inaccurate information fed to a computer, and they're concerned about what might happen if such confidential information were made public.

The company developing the system, Gavin De Becker, Incorporated, has been using a similar program for ten years to evaluate threats against Supreme Court justices and the governors of 11 states. Company officials insist data will remain confidential and will not be collected on every student. They say only those who make a threat, bring a weapon to school, or give some other cause for concern will be evaluated.

We know all too well that parents, teachers, and friends can miss the signs that a student may act with deadly force. So, any method for helping that troubled youth before it's too late is worth considering. But there is a delicate balancing act. We must be careful not to overreact and punish innocent teens just because they fit the profile.