The Chairman and lead Web developer of the Pinkerton Corporation have agreed to my request to fly to Charlotte, North Carolina on Wednesday and talk with company officials face-to-face abaout the objections many Slashdot readers have to the company's new "WAVE America" program.
WAVE America is a private, for-profit school-safety program gearing up in North Carolina -- with the enthusiastic support of the governor -- and going nationwide. It offers incentives (caps, T-shirts, cash) to students who call a toll-free number and anonymously turn in classmates they believe to be depressed or dangerous.
A company executive tells me that Pinkerton brass have already read all of the more than 1,000 posts about the program posted on Slashdot last week, and are considering some changes in WAVE America, including the cash and goodies. The company says it is also already revamping its vague criteria for identifying disturbed or dangerous kids, using specific symptoms recommended by psychiatric organizations.
I told the company official who called me that frankly, I hoped to convince Pinkerton to scrap this anonymous call-in program entirely. This kind of Draconian response to Columbine is unjustified, given that violence among children has been declining for years and that the horrific massacres are as random as they are rare. This kind of anonymous reporting encourages schookids to make judgments that therapists and counselors ought to be making, and could easily target the weird, geeky, unhappy and non-normal as well as the dangerous. It suggests the worst kind of Geek Profiling, in the process wantonly violating constitutional protections against unwarranted intrusions, search and seizure.
But I was surprised by the company's willingness to meet with me. I've been writing about variations on this issue for years. Large corporations are rarely -- in fact, never -- this responsive. Pinkerton executives said they were reading through all of the Slashdot posts, finding some of them compelling and convincing.
If Pinkerton eventually alters this program, it would mark a significant step in the use of the Net to provide individuals -- especially the young, who are historically voiceless in media as well as corporations -- with direct access to powerful entities that often aren't paying attention to anything but stock prices.
My expectations aren't high, but I said I valued a conversation over a confrontation and would keep an open mind if Pinkerton would. I also asked if I could post a message asking Slashdot readers whether they had specific questions about WAVE America -- one of a number of "school-safety" programs launched in the wake of the Columbine killings last year. So if you have any questions or opinions you'd like me to relay to the Pinkerton people I'll be meeting with, please post them here. They can read them directly on the site, or I can relay them. I'll report back on the meeting in a few days.