Proctorio takes on digital rights groups who speak out against their surveillance software
Proctorio, the company behind the invasive exam-monitoring software that has angered students throughout the pandemic, has sued a leading digital rights group in what privacy advocates call for another attempt by the notoriously litigious company to silence its critics.
Fight For The Future, a band that has launch a campaign objecting to the use of online surveillance software, said it received a broad subpoena demanding internal company-related communications. the summons demands that the group desist from communications between Fight For The Future and other critics of the company, including the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and Ian Linkletter, a researcher who was sued by the company in 2020 after posting a critical analysis of the software that linked to public training videos on YouTube.
The subpoena was issued in an ongoing lawsuit against Proctorio filed by the EFF on behalf of Erik Johnson, a University of Miami student who has publicly criticized the company. Johnson’s tweets criticizing Proctorio were removed after the company claimed copyright infringement under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), and Proctorio’s subpoena specifically demands that Fight For The Future deliver “all documents and communications related to [Johnson].”
Notably, Fight for the Future is not a party to this lawsuit.
The subpoena also calls on Fight For The Future to turn over documents related to the online surveillance industry as a whole, as well as communications between the organization and Linkletter.
Fight For The Future released a statement condemning the move, saying the band “will not be silenced or bullied”.
“Proctorio’s attempts to intimidate us through their legal team will not change our principled view that surveillance-based electronic surveillance is inherently harmful and incompatible with basic human rights and student safety,” the group said. said in a press release posted on its website and emailed to Motherboard. “It also won’t stop us from campaigning to pressure institutions to cut ties with Proctorio and other eproctoring companies.”
In response to a request for comment, attorneys representing Proctorio scoffed at the allegations, saying the scope of their subpoena is reasonable.
“We are seeking these highly relevant documents solely to defend against Mr. Johnson’s baseless claims and to support Proctorio’s counterclaims, in full compliance with federal rules of civil procedure,” wrote Justin Kingsolver, a representative for Crowell. & Moring LLP, which is representing Proctorio in the case. “Our subpoena is narrowly designed to seek only the most essential documents, and we have made every reasonable effort to work with the FFTF’s attorney to further restrict the requests, but the FFTF has refused to comply. to hire.”
Evan Greer, the assistant director of Fight For The Future, pushed back against Proctorio’s claims that the subpoena is “tightly tailored” in an email sent to Motherboard.
“Even after we pushed back, Proctorio is still demanding that we turn over internal communications about our advocacy work that have no bearing on Proctorio’s case with Erik Johnson,” Greer told Motherboard. “Proctorio says our internal communications will help them with their lawsuit against Johnson. They won’t, but they could be used to harass us and other privacy advocates.
Like other companies offering exam proctoring tools, Proctorio has come under heavy criticism from students, teachers, parents, and digital security experts since its rise to prominence during the switch to pandemic era towards remote learning. The software’s predictive algorithms automatically flag “abnormal” and “suspicious” student behavior based on head and eye movements, mouse scrolling and other metrics, raising concerns of discrimination against neurodivergent students. The software also uses facial recognition algorithms that have been shown to be racially biased; a researcher found that Proctorio failed to detect black faces 57% of the time.
Some schools have responded to criticism by dropping support for Proctorio, and universities and students have reported that the monitoring software does not actually prevent cheating. Students using Proctorio and similar exam invigilators also said they often had to jump through hoops just to get the software to work.
Fight For The Future filed a motion to set aside summonsstating that being forced to comply would compromise his ability to communicate with the sources and continue his work.
“If disclosed, FFTF documents and communications related to Proctorio could be used to subject third parties who have communicated with FTFF to harassment, including but not limited to harassment by abuse of legal process” , wrote Sarah Gaudette, the group’s chief executive, in a statement accompanying the motion. “As an advocacy organization often contacted by whistleblowers, journalists and victims of privacy breaches, such a deterrent would irreparably harm the work of the FFTF.”