Rejecting Test Surveillance in Higher Education

83 Pages Posted: 22 Jun 2021 Last revised: 2 Sep 2021

See all articles by Lindsey Barrett

Lindsey Barrett

Georgetown University Law Center

Date Written: July 29, 2021


The rise of remote proctoring software during the COVID-19 pandemic illustrates the dangers of surveillance-enabled pedagogy built on the belief that students can’t be trusted. These services, which deploy a range of identification protocols, computer and internet access limitations, and human or automated observation of students as they take tests remotely, are marketed as necessary to prevent cheating. But the success of these services in their stated goal is ill- supported at best and discredited at worst, particularly given their highly over- inclusive criteria for “suspicious” behavior. Meanwhile, the harms they inflict on students are clear: severe anxiety among test-takers, concerning data collection and use practices, and discriminatory flagging of students of color and students with disabilities have provoked widespread outcry from students, professors, privacy advocates, policymakers, and sometimes universities themselves. To make matters worse, the privacy and civil rights laws most relevant to the use of these services are generally inadequate to protect students from the harms they inflict.

Colleges and universities routinely face difficult decisions that require reconciling conflicting interests, but whether to use remote proctoring software isn’t one of them. Remote proctoring software is not pedagogically beneficial, institutionally necessary, or remotely unavoidable, and its use further entrenches inequities in higher education that schools should be devoted to rooting out. Colleges and universities should abandon remote proctoring software, and apply the lessons from this failed experiment to their other existing or potential future uses of surveillance technologies and automated decision-making systems that threaten students’ privacy, access to important life opportunities, and intellectual freedom.

Keywords: privacy, surveillance, automated decision-making, algorithmic discrimination, COVID-19, higher education, remote proctoring software, FERPA, FTC, ADA

Suggested Citation

Barrett, Lindsey, Rejecting Test Surveillance in Higher Education (July 29, 2021). 1 Mich. St. L. Rev (forthcoming 2023), Available at SSRN: or

Lindsey Barrett (Contact Author)

Georgetown University Law Center ( email )

600 New Jersey Avenue N.W.
Washington, DC 20001
United States

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