Univ. Amsterdam students file lawsuit over test-taking software, privacy concerns

University of Amsterdam
University of AmsterdamPhoto: sergio_pulp/DepositPhotos

The Central Student Council (CSR) of the University of Amsterdam filed a lawsuit against the university's board of directors regarding the use of surveillance software Proctorio when students are taking online exams. The CSR wants students to be able to refuse the use of this software, citing privacy concerns, Folia reports.

Proctorio uses the student's webcam and microphone to "supervise" while the student is taking an exam on their computer. The software detects books lying around, people in the room, and keystrokes, among other things. The software analyzes its recordings and sends suspicious recordings to members of the Examination Board, who will assess whether the student was cheating. 

The University of Amsterdam (UvA) argued that it has a "legitimate interest" to use the software, as exams can currently not be organized in a non-digital way due to the coronavirus crisis. Postponing exams will lead to study delays, and the university needs some way to make sure students aren't cheating. The university therefore believes it does not need to ask students' permission to use the software.

Chairman of the UvA board Geert ten Dam told Folia that the university searched for alternatives. "If there was a good alternative, I think we would have already found it." He stressed that examinations are set up in a way that the data is not stored, only specially designated people within the university have access to the recordings, and recordings will be deleted within 30 days. 

Students will have to take their exams online using Proctorio. An exception will only be made for students who are unable to do so due to "medical conditions or a functional limitation", according to Folia. Over 200 such exams are scheduled until the summer. 

But the Student Council wants students to be able to refuse the use of Proctorio, without negative consequences like study delays. "There is a great interest in combating study delays, but whether alternative forms of testing are impossible is a point of discussion. Who or what defines that there is really no other way?" CSR chairman Pjotr van der Jagt said to Folia. "Your house is your place, you safe space. The university has no business looking in there." 

Van der Jagt stressed that the CSR is not trying to turn the university board into "bogeymen who don't care about student privacy". "In a crisis, they made a choice that they thought would be best for the university, but no one will go through a crisis flawlessly," he said. He thinks a ruling on this matter will benefit all Dutch students.

The court in Amsterdam will handle this lawsuit on Thursday afternoon.