Technology moves faster than government. Young Americans operate new devices, adapt to social media changes and nimbly navigate the “internet-of-things.” The government crawls through cumbersome data platforms, stumbles through technology regulation and ponders the application of analog laws to a digital society.

Even the joke about a people asking their grandchild to program their VCR is out-of-date. But the premise remains true: children understand, interact with and manipulate the digital world better than those two-decades or more out of college. Those of us who are older could ponder being controlled by an ascendant youthful technocracy, but that youth carries with it the same risky behavior tendencies found in every generation. And when government promises parents certain safeguards are in place, parents expect those safety protocols to work.

Last week, State Auditor Stacey Pickering released a cyber security audit of public school computer devices which found in a random sample that 86 percent of devices issued by middle schools to students, and 82 percent of devices issued by high schools to students, contained inappropriate material including pornography.

According to Pickering’s report, the audit reviewed school districts’ compliance with the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) which requires public school districts to have an Internet Safety Policy and Technology Protection Measures to block and filter Internet access to material that is considered obscene or harmful to minors.

Pickering, speaking to a recent Stennis Capitol Press Forum luncheon, described some of the failures some schools presented in their filtering technology. Some schools filter content at the school, but when students take their devices off-campus they are able to access material unfiltered and then bring that material back onto campus. Other schools would turn their filters off in the afternoon presuming students had gone home for the day.

The audit found of “schools that participated in the One-to-One Initiative [which provides a computer or device to every student], OSA tested eighteen schools within nine school districts” and analyzed 150 random devices. OSA (Office of State Auditor) found 20 percent “of the devices showed evidence that students were able to access explicit material on school issued devices; evidence also indicated that the district’s filtering systems were ineffective when filtering inappropriate material.”

The report noted, “The nine districts reviewed did not enforce their Internet Safety and/or Acceptable Use Policies by ensuring TPM were effective while students had access to the Internet” and “one school district does not maintain TPM filtering when students are off school grounds.” The audit determined the school districts “do not appear to be completely adhering to their own policies.”

Pickering recommends the Mississippi Depart of Education provide districts with alternative solutions to evaluate their monitoring systems; establish required uniform policies for all districts regarding filtering packages and monitoring procedures; establish mandatory policies to monitor school-issued devices off campus; establish penalties for noncompliance; requiring testing and monitoring of TPMs; and inform parents on ways to keep students safe online.

As I listened to Pickering discuss this audit at the Stennis Luncheon, I recalled the first time I heard of CIPA nearly fifteen years ago. At the time, I was on the staff of Stacey Pickering’s cousin, then Congressman Chip Pickering, who had written and introduced CIPA. Various attempts at requiring filtering to protect students from explicit material had met court defeats, but Chip Pickering’s version tied the filtering requirement to schools and public libraries which received E-Rate funds – the Schools and Libraries Program of the Universal Service Fund directed by the FCC. Essentially, CIPA doesn’t require schools (or public libraries) to filter the Internet, but it requires schools and libraries that accept E-Rate funds to do so. Every public school district in Mississippi accepts E-Rate funds.  According to the MDE, E-Rate has provided $639 million to Mississippi schools and libraries since its inception in 1998. In FY2015, nearly $45 million came to Mississippi through the program.

Stacey Pickering is correct that Mississippi public schools are required to provide these safety protocols and he makes sound recommendations to address the apparent failures of school districts to meet their obligations.

But these federal standards were created before pervasive Wi-Fi. Today a high school student can go to any McDonald’s or coffee shop with a school issued device and wirelessly connect to any online content. A student at school can pull out a phone, create a hotspot, and sync a school device to a cellular account and bypass any filters. And I’m sure there are a plethora of challenges I’m unaware of as I’m still daily mystified by the capabilities of my own iPhone which is so old it is no longer supported by Apple.

So government has some catching up to do. Mississippi public schools, according to this audit report, can’t meet standards created fifteen years ago. And likely by the time their devices catch up, they’ll already be obsolete.





Brian Perry is a partner with Capstone Public Affairs, LLC. Reach him at reasonablyright@brianperry.ms or @CapstonePerry on Twitter.