The incident highlighted privacy concerns related to online proctoring and the Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF) has written to the University Grants Commission (UGC) about it.

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news Crime Sunday, January 10, 2021 - 14:23

An incident has come to light raising concerns about safety and privacy of students as well as their personal data due to the proctoring practice being employed by many colleges for exams. Students of Narsee Monjee Institute of Management Studies (NMIMS) have alleged harassment by a proctor, an official hired by the institute to invigilate exams online. The proctor, named Amit, allegedly started cyber stalking some of the students and contacted them on WhatsApp.

Amit allegedly reached out to two students who sat for an examination at the institute. Proctors have access to the student's webcam and can even ask students to change the view of their webcam. "Two of my batchmates were harassed by a proctor named Amit. He repeatedly contacted the students during the exam and even on WhatsApp after the exam ended. When officials were informed about this, they insisted that students continue with their examinations and not let this situation affect her studies," a student at the institute told TNM.

Mumbai-based NMIMS has students from all over India. It is among the many institutes including Delhi Technological University, OP Jindal Global University, Sonipat, SRM University, Chennai, Mumbai University and IIT-Bombay, which have used proctoring technology for its exams in the last few months. According to the Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF), proctoring technology uses Artificial Intelligence powered algorithms to keep a check on candidates during online exams. It uses facial recognition, surveys and records surrounding audio of the student's room and monitors changes in their line of sight by capturing photographs at 15-20 second intervals to catch unfair practices during exams. It also monitors a student's screen.

Harassment

In the NMIMS case, screenshots shared by students show that the proctor repeatedly asked the student to lower their webcam during the exam. Screenshots also showed the proctor reaching out to students on social media platforms.

"Today I was proctoring you when you are giving your exam. I don't know suddenly while scrolling I saw you and ... I thought to contact you and after applying my source I got your number. Don't take me wrong," read one of the messages shared by students.

In both cases, students said it was the same proctor named Amit who contacted them. "He had called from two different numbers but they had the same WhatsApp photo and Truecaller identified both numbers as belonging to Amit," a student said.

On Saturday, two new cases emerged with relation to proctoring, though it is not yet clear if they are related to Amit. A student has alleged that their Aadhaar number was used to apply for loan while another student found that a screenshot of her screen with her face was taken without her permission and stored on the proctor’s system.

NMIMS responds

The institute issued a statement about the allegations on Friday evening. "NMIMS condemns the proctors' behaviour and this is absolutely unacceptable from our end. NMIMS has zero-tolerance for any activities by anyone, that is in violation of NMIMS's code of conduct and values," a statement shared on the institute's social media account said.

"NMIMS has raised these concerns with our technology partner, METTL Management. They have assured that they are taking the strictest action, including approaching the police against the proctors indulging in such behaviour and violating the code of conduct. They have also assured us that they will be taking all the necessary steps and following thorough due diligence processes while engaging proctors. We assure students that the METTL is not permitted to capture students' personal information," it added.

 

Privacy concerns

The case has highlighted privacy concerns pertaining to online proctoring. On Saturday, the Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF) wrote to the University Grants Commission (UGC) and the Ministry of Education raising concerns about the technology used in exam proctoring.

IFF stated that it is a highly invasive technology. "Use of this highly invasive technology has led to higher levels of stress and anxiety in students who have already been one of the worst affected groups in the pandemic. The constant threat of being flagged by the technology for a perceived wrongful action in addition to the stress of the exam being given leads to a student having heightened anxiety level," the note by IFF read.

It stated that the technology collects data such as full name, date of birth, address, phone number, scans of government-issued identity documents, educational institution affiliation, and student ID numbers. In addition to this, photographs are taken and sound is monitored. "While such gathering and retaining of data is objectively harmful, the harms are increased in India where we do not currently have a data protection law in place to ensure the data privacy of students," added IFF.

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