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American News Dec 24, 2021 4:11 PM EST

ACLU calls to CANCEL Elf on the Shelf for normalizing surveillance

"I don't want to sound like a Grinch, but we shouldn't be celebrating seasonal surveillance," said Albert Fox Cahn.

ACLU calls to CANCEL Elf on the Shelf for normalizing surveillance
Hannah Nightingale Washington DC

The Elf on the Shelf, a holiday tradition celebrated by countless families with young children around the world, is being called creepy, invasive, and dangerous by numerous groups, who say that it's teaching children the wrong lessons about surveillance.

While several privacy groups clarified to The New York Times that the elf is not the biggest threat to the world, they said they find the elf creepy, invasive, and even dangerous.

"They fear that the lanky elf is teaching children all the wrong lessons, acclimating them to being monitored by a police state, teaching them to passively accept constantly being watched by an unseen authority figure," wrote The New York Times.

The Elf on the Shelf is a seasonal tradition based on the 2004 book by Carol Aebersold and Chanda Bell of the same name. The elf appears in homes between Thanksgiving and Christmas reporting on whether the child has been good or bad to Santa. Nightly the elf leaves to go to the north pole to report. Parents move the elf to a different spot, and children are left to find the elf in comical situations the next morning.

"I don't want to sound like a Grinch, but we shouldn't be celebrating seasonal surveillance," said Albert Fox Cahn, executive director of the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project, a civil rights and privacy group. "It's really a terrible message for kids."

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) also called out the elf, saying the elf potentially sends the wrong lessons to children.

"I know a lot of families just see this as a fun thing, but it's worth thinking about the messages it's giving to children about surveillance by authorities," said Jay Stanley, senior policy analyst at the ACLU. Speech, Privacy and Technology Project.

"Personally, I consider success as a parent to be teaching my kids to do the right thing even when nobody is watching, whether they be from the North Pole or anywhere else," he added. "Maybe these are elves that should be left on store shelves."

According to the Daily Mail, "Some psychologists have warned that Elf on the Shelf also encourages lying to children, questions the trustworthiness of parents and encourages gullibility in children instead of critical thinking."

Owners of the Elf on the Shelf brand, the Lumistella Company, defended its product, saying the seasonal activity offers wholesome benefits.

"Santa's Scout Elves don't just help to keep up with the Nice List; they also share with Santa how families are spreading the spirit of Christmas," the company told The New York Times in a statement.

"Many children note that their favorite moments throughout each season include waking up to see where the family's Scout Elf has landed and the humorous scenes they sometimes set up. Our hope is that the Elf on the Shelf will create cheerful holiday moments and precious family memories that will last a lifetime," the statement continued.

Despite its statement describing the wholesome benefits, Caitriona Fitzgerald, deputy director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a public interest research group, warned of effects the elf could have on a child's sense of autonomy.

"If kids think they are always being watched, even when the watcher is a magical elf, that can have real effects on how they see themselves in the world," she said.

Mr. Cahn, of the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project, told The New York Times that children should be taught that "no one should be looking at you in your bedroom without consent." There is a cost to normalizing surveillance, he said, "even in the most adorable ways."

"I don't want to be the first one to take Santa Claus to court for invasion of privacy, but consent matters, and having privacy matters," he added.

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