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Microphones on buses may not be a good idea, say schools

Having first installed microphones as well as cameras on its buses, Boston school officials decide that maybe they're a touch Orwellian.

Are microphones on school buses just a little too 1984? Organic Learning/YouTube screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

Educators' first thoughts are sometimes the only ones they have.

There's a touching surprise, therefore, that one school district has decided it might have adopted the practices of the surveillance state a touch too much.

In Boston, you see, they have many unruly children. We've seen this in countless movies featuring Ben Affleck and Matt Damon.

So earlier this year, the school district decided to insert cameras and microphones on its school buses.

It may be the district was surprised to discern a rumbling echo of discomfort at its draconian, almost Googlie ways. For, as the Boston Globe reports, the microphones will now be muted, leaving only the cameras rolling.

This doesn't mean, though, that sound recordings detailing whether Johnny still loves Mary, but has been seen kissing Jane, won't someday be obtained.

School Department spokesman Lee McGuire told the Globe: "If we decide there is value in audio, we will bring the issue before the School Committee and develop a policy to ensure student privacy."

That would be quite some policy. The Boston Public Schools website says that such a policy would be developed "with community input."

The cameras and microphones were originally installed in July, with the general purpose of improving discipline and safety. There was no single incident that prompted the move.

At the time, though, the School Department's director of transportation, Carl Allen, said: "We have a strong desire to have more data so we can more quickly respond and ensure the safety of our kids and employees."

The ACLU worried that recording equipment would incite a culture in which children could never shake the fear that they were being watched and overheard.

Those of a pessimistic nature might observe that they might as well be prepared early for the society in which they'll grow up.