Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Booz Allen and Online Surveillance...I Mean Education

In the wake of former Booz Allen employee Edward Snowden's revelation about the NSA's massive (and uber creepy) surveillance scheme, I've started to wonder what else this strange company has been up to. A lot, it turns out.

Partnering with institutions like Farleigh Dickinson University and the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton @ Work program, Booz Allen has apparently been a major (and powerful and wealthy and, yes, still creepy) force in the disruptive shove towards internet-based education. This is particularly significant when we take into account that they've also worked alongside the NSA to monitor and record virtually all communications and exchanges over the net and our phones. This online education partnership presents itself as a new tool to monitor and constrain free speech, this time in our classrooms. For a sense of what's on offer at one of these education businesses, check out this list of FDU courses.

And they've got people of color especially in their sites. In what reads as a plea for black colleges to just get online already, Reggie Smith III, Chairman of the Board of Directors for the United States Distance Learning Association and employee at Booz Allen, writes, "HBCUs [Historically Black Colleges and Universities] have an imperative to take their programs online."

Finally, I'll leave you with this extended quote from a Booz Allen position paper on "Effectiveness and Efficiency: Reimagining Government," which makes clear how Booz Allen sees online education as a strategic surveillance tool and the current climate of budget cuts as the perfect time to prey:

"The aging workforce and record budget deficits require an end to business as usual, which means federal leaders...have a window of opportunity to enact change. Not small, short-term, wait-out-the-storm changes, but transformative change that reorients government [or education] to expanding missions, new workforce requirements, and new budget realities. This kind of change is possible because new technologies such as cloud and mobile computing, advanced data analytics, and virtualization solutions provide numerous opportunities to streamline government operations and improve mission performance across the entire spectrum of civilian, defense, and intelligence activities...

"Continuous monitoring also mitigates costly security risks. Best practices are increasingly shared among agency CIOs, so they can be built into new technologies and solutions. In fact, the collaborative model is the basis for how DHS [the Department of Homeland Security] is building out its cybersecurity guidance: Academic institutions [albeit unwittingly], agencies, and CIOs are sharing insights on cyber practices that are evaluated for government-wide adoption."

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