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UvA to implement online surveillance for exams

Henk Strikkers,
8 mei 2020 - 09:43

Despite privacy concerns raised by the student council, the university board has decided to implement surveillance software (proctoring) during the exam period.

How to prevent students cheating while sitting exams at home? Proctoring software is one option. By monitoring webcam and microphone use as well as recording keystrokes, the software can identify if there are books in a student’s room or people talking. This data is then passed on to lecturers or members of the examination committee to review and determine whether it is fraud.

Pjotr van der Jagt

But there are privacy concerns. Your home is ‘your safe space,’ chair Pjotr van der Jagt of the Student Council said two weeks ago. ‘The university shouldn’t look there.’ In Tilburg, students started a petition against proctoring. It has been signed almost five thousand times. In Leiden, Law professor Egbert Koops wrote in the university magazine Mare (Dutch) that concerns about privacy are ‘justified’. He raised his own concern: ’We have no conclusive means of determining whether the person behind the laptop is actually the student who has to take the exam.’

Legal questions
The UvA has taken measures to make sure that personal data are not stored. For example, only specially designated persons within the UvA can watch the recorded material; Proctoria, the company that makes the software cannot access the images because of encryption and images are stored on servers in the European Union, which is important because the General Data Protection Regulation applies in the EU.
Nevertheless, legal questions remain. The UvA states that it is not required to ask for permission because it has a ‘legitimate interest in data processing.’According to a spokesperson, the corona crisis created an ‘exceptional situation’ in which online proctoring can be used in the absence of alternative test methods to prevent study delays.

For students hoping to opt out, playing the ‘privacy card’ is insufficient to qualify for an exception according to a spokesperson at the UvA. ‘The Examination Board of your study programme will assess whether there is reason to proceed with alternative exam methods.’ But such a custom solution will likely on apply to students who can’t take an exam online due to medical conditions or a disability.
Sarah Eskens, PhD student at the UvA Institute for Information Law, is critical of the legal basis for the board’s decision. She finds it ‘difficult to argue’ that the UvA had ‘legitimate interest’. She wonders if there are really no alternatives such as open book exams. Moreover, the interests of students and protecting their fundamental rights should not be outweighed by the interests of the UvA, she says. 


A petition against the decision to use proctoring at the UvA has already been signed more than 1,500 times in the first 24 hours. You can find it here