Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in April 2020, universities worldwide have been forced to work quickly and creatively to move their regular instruction into online spaces. In addition to the difficulty of re-creating the classroom environment remotely, one of the most prominent challenges administrators have faced is how to regulate and oversee examinations and assessments.

That’s where software companies like Respondus LockDown, ProctorU, Proctorio, Examity, Honorlock, and others, have attempted to offer a solution. While official data is not yet available, it’s likely that millions of remotely proctored tests are happening every month.

However, the software that seemingly resolves fairness issues in the exam process has accelerated the ongoing debate over the right to privacy online and raised important questions about equity and access. Most of the organizations deploying e-proctoring technology in Canada are subject to public sector privacy legislation with clear standards and authorities for collecting, using and disclosing personal information. Do these applications meet these standards?

While there are differences amongst how each software program works, in most cases, it requires access to a combination of a student’s microphone, screen, webcam and browser. It can also include the use of biometrics, like facial recognition, to confirm identity and flag “suspicious” behaviour. It’s a set of features similar to what some might call ‘spyware’.

Here are some of the main concerns and issues you need to know about when it comes to E-proctoring;

  • Ambiguous terms of service– Questions have been raised about terms of service filled with vague language or technical jargon, resulting in a less than clear or transparent guarantee that students’ data, especially sensitive data like biometrics, can’t be sold or otherwise misused. Privacy legislation requires that individuals be clearly informed of the purposes for which their personal information is being collected and that the information can’t be used or disclosed for other purposes outside of limited, allowed circumstances. Without this, it is very difficult to hold an organization to account.
  • Too much information captured – Many software programs rely on ‘room scans’, which involve using the students’ camera to show their surroundings. In many cases, professors can access students’ recordings, even downloading them to their personal devices, allowing them to see a student’s location based on their IP address. None of this information is actually necessary for e-proctoring purposes and if capture can’t be restricted, security and accountability measures must be used to protect and/or delete unauthorized personal information.
  • Lack of transparency and communication – Many Student Unions have been disappointed by what they claim is a lack of consultation and insufficient information provided by University administrators regarding the use and policies around e-proctoring. Privacy regulation requires public sector organizations to provide clear explanations of how and why they collect, use, disclose, and protect personal information involved in e-proctoring before the data is collected and that they develop and implement policies that govern information handling and security.
  • Inaccuracy and inherent bias – Algorithms are only as good as the humans who build them. Similar technology has repeatedly been shown to recreate gender and racial bias unintentionally. Furthermore, students who live in small, shared spaces or are caring for children at home during the lockdown could be unfairly penalized for background noises or movement the software sees as nefarious. This furthermore fails to meet the legislative standard that personal information collected must be directly necessary for the purpose and must be accurate.

While the companies that build these software programs claim to be focused on ensuring privacy, safety, and access it is vital that administrators and assessors remain aware and informed of potential issues with this new technology and work to respond accordingly.

If you’re wondering how e-proctoring impacts your organization’s privacy compliance, the experts at Cenera can work with your team to cut through the confusion to help you assess and mitigate risk. Contact us today to learn more about our privacy & information data management services.

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