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dougdirt
02-18-2010, 03:24 PM
This is downright creepy.

http://www.boingboing.net/2010/02/17/school-used-student.html

By Cory Doctorow
According to the filings in Blake J Robbins v Lower Merion School District (PA) et al, the laptops issued to high-school students in the well-heeled Philly suburb have webcams that can be covertly activated by the schools' administrators, who have used this facility to spy on students and even their families. The issue came to light when the Robbins's child was disciplined for "improper behavior in his home" and the Vice Principal used a photo taken by the webcam as evidence. The suit is a class action, brought on behalf of all students issued with these machines.

If true, these allegations are about as creepy as they come. I don't know about you, but I often have the laptop in the room while I'm getting dressed, having private discussions with my family, and so on. The idea that a school district would not only spy on its students' clickstreams and emails (bad enough), but also use these machines as AV bugs is purely horrifying.

Schools are in an absolute panic about kids divulging too much online, worried about pedos and marketers and embarrassing photos that will haunt you when you run for office or apply for a job in 10 years. They tell kids to treat their personal details as though they were precious.

But when schools take that personal information, indiscriminately invading privacy (and, of course, punishing students who use proxies and other privacy tools to avoid official surveillance), they send a much more powerful message: your privacy is worthless and you shouldn't try to protect it.

Caveat Emperor
02-18-2010, 03:47 PM
Kinda makes me want to just put black electrical tape over the camera on my MacBook.

Hoosier Red
02-18-2010, 04:08 PM
Everyone associated should be fired. Then hired back so they can be fired again.
Absolutely disgraceful. The fact that they thought they could punish a kid and use this as evidence is even worse.

durl
02-18-2010, 04:14 PM
I'm waiting to see the pictures of the tent city of lawyers that will inevitably pop up on the lawns of the families impacted.

redsmetz
02-18-2010, 04:22 PM
I'm waiting to see the pictures of the tent city of lawyers that will inevitably pop up on the lawns of the families impacted.

Not intending to start a fire, frankly the district should be sued six ways to Saturday.

Roy Tucker
02-18-2010, 04:26 PM
Not intending to start a fire, frankly the district should be sued six ways to Saturday.

Yep.

reds1869
02-18-2010, 06:00 PM
Yep.

+1.

Kingspoint
02-18-2010, 06:03 PM
This is downright creepy.

http://www.boingboing.net/2010/02/17/school-used-student.html

By Cory Doctorow
According to the filings in Blake J Robbins v Lower Merion School District (PA) et al, the laptops issued to high-school students in the well-heeled Philly suburb have webcams that can be covertly activated by the schools' administrators, who have used this facility to spy on students and even their families. The issue came to light when the Robbins's child was disciplined for "improper behavior in his home" and the Vice Principal used a photo taken by the webcam as evidence. The suit is a class action, brought on behalf of all students issued with these machines.

If true, these allegations are about as creepy as they come. I don't know about you, but I often have the laptop in the room while I'm getting dressed, having private discussions with my family, and so on. The idea that a school district would not only spy on its students' clickstreams and emails (bad enough), but also use these machines as AV bugs is purely horrifying.

Schools are in an absolute panic about kids divulging too much online, worried about pedos and marketers and embarrassing photos that will haunt you when you run for office or apply for a job in 10 years. They tell kids to treat their personal details as though they were precious.

But when schools take that personal information, indiscriminately invading privacy (and, of course, punishing students who use proxies and other privacy tools to avoid official surveillance), they send a much more powerful message: your privacy is worthless and you shouldn't try to protect it.

I always have a piece of tape on the camera. I have no reason for anyone in the world to get a glimpse of me. I also don't trust anyone as far as one's ability to hack into a computer and activate the camera.

klw
02-18-2010, 06:13 PM
The district is being sued. The article above references that in the first line.
Here is another piece on this. Suit was filed by parents of the boy who was disciplined for the out of school behavior.
http://www.computerworld.com/s/article/9158818/Pa._schools_spy_on_students_using_laptop_webcams_c laims_lawsuit?taxonomyId=84

westofyou
02-18-2010, 06:24 PM
They should burn the school down and pour salt on the ground where it stands and send all those involved to Alaska and make them walk home in a bad pair of shoes.

Joseph
02-18-2010, 08:28 PM
They should burn the school down and pour salt on the ground where it stands and send all those involved to Alaska and make them walk home in a bad pair of shoes.

Frankly I'm outraged at this outrageous suggestion.

Ltlabner
02-18-2010, 09:40 PM
It'll be interesting to see who pops in here and defends the schools actions simply to take the other side and be difficult.

I'd have to say whoever cooked up that plan is just flat out dumb. Mercy.

edabbs44
02-18-2010, 09:45 PM
It'll be interesting to see who pops in here and defends the schools actions simply to take the other side and be difficult.

I'd have to say whoever cooked up that plan is just flat out dumb. Mercy.

Not sure anyone in their right mind would do that.

SunDeck
02-18-2010, 10:07 PM
Wow. Just. Wow.
The height and breadth of stupidity involved in this is practically unimaginable. But the most amazing thing about this is that the idea was probably sent up the line and approved by multiple people.

edabbs44
02-18-2010, 10:23 PM
I'd like to hear the other side of the story, if there is one. If this is the truth, then they are in a bit of trouble.

Hoosier Red
02-18-2010, 10:33 PM
Wow. Just. Wow.
The height and breadth of stupidity involved in this is practically unimaginable. But the most amazing thing about this is that the idea was probably sent up the line and approved by multiple people.

That's what gets me with this, not only was someone stupid enough to say this was a good idea, but no one bothered to say boo to it.

KoryMac5
02-18-2010, 10:40 PM
The School Super Responds:


Dear LMSD Community,

Last year, our district became one of the first school systems in the United States to provide laptop computers to all high school students. This initiative has been well received and has provided educational benefits to our students.

The District is dedicated to protecting and promoting student privacy. The laptops do contain a security feature intended to track lost, stolen and missing laptops. This feature has been deactivated effective today.

The following questions and answers help explain the background behind the initial decision to install the tracking-security feature, its limited use, and next steps.

Why are webcams installed on student laptops?

The Apple computers that the District provides to students come equipped with webcams and students are free to utilize this feature for educational purposes.

Why was the remote tracking-security feature installed?

Laptops are a frequent target for theft in schools and off school property. The security feature was installed to help locate a laptop in the event it was reported lost, missing or stolen so that the laptop could be returned to the student.

How did the security feature work?

Upon a report of a suspected lost, stolen or missing laptop, the feature was activated by the District's security and technology departments. The tracking-security feature was limited to taking a still image of the operator and the operator's screen. This feature has only been used for the limited purpose of locating a lost, stolen or missing laptop. The District has not used the tracking feature or web cam for any other purpose or in any other manner whatsoever.

Do you anticipate reactivating the tracking-security feature?

Not without express written notification to all students and families.

We regret if this situation has caused any concern or inconvenience among our students and families. We are reviewing the matter and will provide an additional update as soon as information becomes available.

Sincerely,

Dr. Christopher McGinley
Superintendent

Should be an interesting case to follow over the next few months. I would imagine several heads will roll and an out of court settlement will follow.

Chip R
02-18-2010, 10:47 PM
This feature has only been used for the limited purpose of locating a lost, stolen or missing laptop. The District has not used the tracking feature or web cam for any other purpose or in any other manner whatsoever.

So why was this kid disciplined for something he did in his own home that was captured by the laptop the school gave the kid?

TC81190
02-18-2010, 10:53 PM
Honestly, I would subpeona the school and have them turn over everything they got from their footage. This is nightmarish.

marcshoe
02-18-2010, 11:04 PM
This is bizarre and unbelievable, but I have known administrators whom i believe would do this if they thought they could get away with it, and I have known many who work around these administrators who would be afraid to criticize or expose anything they do.

RBA
02-18-2010, 11:07 PM
I don't know. Maybe the kid took pictures/video of him/her self and saved it onto the laptop. Later, the techs could of did a security scan looking for unauthorized software, downloads, pornography, etc and found the pictures/video of the student doing something inappropiate?

Chip R
02-18-2010, 11:19 PM
It'll be interesting to see who pops in here and defends the schools actions simply to take the other side and be difficult.



I think the school was totally in the wrong here but I could see some people say that if that kid wasn't doing anything improper, then he wouldn't have been disciplined.

IslandRed
02-18-2010, 11:26 PM
I think the school was totally in the wrong here but I could see some people say that if that kid wasn't doing anything improper, then he wouldn't have been disciplined.

Not being a lawyer or anything, the number of things a school can legally punish a student for when the student was in his home at the time, however they came about the evidence of it, has to be pretty darn small. Schools educate kids, they don't own them.

wolfboy
02-19-2010, 12:11 AM
I'm waiting to see the pictures of the tent city of lawyers that will inevitably pop up on the lawns of the families impacted.

Why the swipe at lawyers? Isn't this the exact situation where a lawyer is needed? :confused:

durl
02-19-2010, 02:42 AM
Correct me if I'm wrong, but if the school district is sued, won't the taxpayers be the ones that end up paying the penalty if found liable? Whatever money is awarded must come from the tax dollars of other citizens that are meant to go toward education. Something should be done, though.


Why the swipe at lawyers? Isn't this the exact situation where a lawyer is needed? :confused:

I didn't intend for it to sound like a swipe at lawyers, but merely to say that an incident like this will undoubtedly result in a lawsuit. My "tent city" reference was just to say that they won't have trouble finding a lawyer that will take the case.

cincinnati chili
02-19-2010, 02:57 AM
Isn't this Kobe Bryant's old school district?

dougdirt
02-19-2010, 03:35 AM
Isn't this Kobe Bryant's old school district?

Yes and I am glad I wasn't the only weirdo who made the connection when I heard Lower Merion.

guttle11
02-19-2010, 03:39 AM
Isn't this Kobe Bryant's old school district?

Yep. Unfortunately this school district may ruin it for many others looking to provide computers for students.

The only chance the school district has to save face legally is by claiming the laptops are school property, or if their was some kind of agreement students and parents had to sign. Wouldn't change the fact that this is incredibly icky, though.

Kingspoint
02-19-2010, 05:32 AM
I heard a week ago that Portland Public Schools was going to do the same thing:

Put this security measure in their laptops for the purpose of both using the locater device and it's ability to snap a picture of the thief and sending it to the security department. It's only to be activated, as was said above, in the event of a lost or stolen computer. Stolen laptops are a big problem in schools. One Portland School was broken into just last week and had several of them stolen.

I thought it was a great idea when I heard it. Using it for any other purpose than to recover a lost or stolen laptop would, of course, be forbidden.

I still think it's a great idea. If someone misuses the security features for anything other than locating a lost or stolen laptop, then that person gets prosecuted just like the thief who steals the laptop.

Donder
02-19-2010, 05:52 AM
So why was this kid disciplined for something he did in his own home that was captured by the laptop the school gave the kid?


This feature has only been used for the limited purpose of locating a lost, stolen or missing laptop. The District has not used the tracking feature or web cam for any other purpose or in any other manner whatsoever.

Doesn't this quote imply that the kid was using a stolen/missing computer? Am I missing something? Could the "inappropriate" behavior include stealing a school owned laptop? Obviously I don't know, I'm just trying to put two and two together.

edabbs44
02-19-2010, 07:09 AM
There is probably more to this story.

edabbs44
02-19-2010, 07:10 AM
Yes and I am glad I wasn't the only weirdo who made the connection when I heard Lower Merion.

First thing I thought of as well.

Kingspoint
02-19-2010, 07:21 AM
Doesn't this quote imply that the kid was using a stolen/missing computer? Am I missing something? Could the "inappropriate" behavior include stealing a school owned laptop? Obviously I don't know, I'm just trying to put two and two together.


And, if that's the case, prosecute the kid. I see no fault with the school in this if that's "all" that happened. I praise the school if that's "what happened".

Dom Heffner
02-19-2010, 04:02 PM
There is probably more to this story.

You think? Lots on here jumping to conclusions.

Eric_the_Red
02-19-2010, 04:11 PM
You think? Lots on here jumping to conclusions.

http://literalbarrage.org/blog/wp-content/uploads/2007/04/office_space.jpg

bucksfan2
02-19-2010, 04:13 PM
So why was this kid disciplined for something he did in his own home that was captured by the laptop the school gave the kid?

Interesting. Just read through this thread and think there is quite a bit more to the story. I have no issue with kids using laptops in school and the school being able use the web cams there. I would have an issue however if the web cams are used at home. I am not a lawyer but I wonder the legal issues behind possession of the laptop is at issue. I also have little sympathy if the kid was doing something illegal at home and got popped using a laptop.

TRF
02-19-2010, 05:59 PM
The school issued laptops to the students. the kid was a student. There is no mention of theft by the district superintendent. It is stated that the kid was punished for inappropriate behavior in the home, no theft is mentioned.

If there is more to the story, i'll be surprised.

Dom Heffner
02-19-2010, 06:00 PM
I'll take a stab: I think he used the webcam for naughty purposes, and as webcams do, they take stills and save them inside the program. Next person who opened up the laptop saw them.

So yeah, he misbehaved at home, but he left the proof on the computer.

Doesn't mean the school uncovered the evidence through spying, even though they had the capability to turn on the camera for locating purposes.

Maybe?

TRF
02-19-2010, 06:14 PM
Also, how do you come to the conclusion of misbehavior from a single still image?

TRF
02-19-2010, 06:17 PM
I'll take a stab: I think he used the webcam for naughty purposes, and as webcams do, they take stills and save them inside the program. Next person who opened up the laptop saw them.

So yeah, he misbehaved at home, but he left the proof on the computer.

Doesn't mean the school uncovered the evidence through spying, even though they had the capability to turn on the camera for locating purposes.

Maybe?

IF that was the case, all they need was the cache or the history. If the kid was dumb enough to take inappropriate pics with the web cam, then the school owns the images, not the student. Dom's scenario is the only one that gives the school the slightest leg to stand on.

HOWEVER, if they were activating/viewing while he was in the process, then shame on them.

Dom Heffner
02-19-2010, 06:27 PM
Also, how do you come to the conclusion of misbehavior from a single still image?

Ah...yeah, you get the picture.

Yachtzee
02-19-2010, 06:48 PM
I think the other scenario is that the kid reported it stolen in order to try to get another so he could sell one and got caught in a photo taken after he reported it stolen. I think this is one of the problems with schools giving laptops out to students. There are those who will try to sell the laptops to get money (often for drugs) and report them stolen.

Dom Heffner
02-19-2010, 06:54 PM
I think the other scenario is that the kid reported it stolen in order to try to get another so he could sell one and got caught in a photo taken after he reported it stolen. I think this is one of the problems with schools giving laptops out to students. There are those who will try to sell the laptops to get money (often for drugs) and report them stolen.

And whoever thought it would be a good idea to give a teenager a webcam?

Dom Heffner
02-19-2010, 07:30 PM
According to the filings in Blake J Robbins v Lower Merion School District (PA) et al, the laptops issued to high-school students in the well-heeled Philly suburb have webcams that can be covertly activated by the schools' administrators, who have used this facility to spy on students and even their families.

The way it is being portrayed in doug's story is a little different than the superintendent is portraying it.

The school is saying it was only activated to take still photgraphs and only used to locate stolen or missing laptops. Only two people were authorized to view the photos.

I don't know that this makes it any better, but there is a difference between just turning on a camera and watchng people versus taking still photos.

One article did state that the photos were of students and family members in various states of undress, which I just find highly unlikely.

The last point can be found here => http://www.timesherald.com/articles/2010/02/18/news/doc4b7d95487f461602771918.txt

The text is here=> “As the laptops at issue were routinely used by the students, their friends and family members while at home, it is believed and therefore averred that many of the webcam images captured and/or intercepted consist of minors and/or their parents in compromising or embarrassing positions, including but not limited to, in various stages of dress or undress,” the suit claims.

I don't know- I could take a photo with a webcam and what would be the odds of getting pictures at exactly the same time someone was undressing, let alone several photos?

Though- I think the bottom line here is- who in their right mind thought this was a good idea? Even if your intent is noble, you could still be taking pictures of someone that would violate their privacy.

Dom Heffner
02-19-2010, 07:41 PM
I don't know if this was posted, but this paragraph just sounds weird to me:


The suit says that in November, assistant principal Lynn Matsko called in sophomore Blake Robbins and told him that he had "engaged in improper behavior in his home," and cited as evidence a photograph from the webcam in his school-issued laptop.

For me, this sounds fishy. Because I can't imagine a school official busting someone for inappropraite behavior in his home, based on photos taken by the school through a spying or theft investigation.

Again- what I think is the student use the webcam for sexual purposes and the webcam caught the images.

I know webcams take stills and store them, or the user can take them on purpose or accidentally.

This is going to be interesting, because if he used the school webcam for sexual purposes, this gets grey, I think.

He isn't getting busted for his home behavior as the suit alleges, but he is getting busted for essentially placing pornography on a computer that is not his. If he is a minor or the webcam stored images of the other party engaged with him, could this be child pornography?

I dunno...I'm probably reaching.

Caveat Emperor
02-19-2010, 07:53 PM
He isn't getting busted for his home behavior as the suit alleges, but he is getting busted for essentially placing pornography on a computer that is not his. If he is a minor or the webcam stored images of the other party engaged with him, could this be child pornography?

If the scenario you describe had happened in Ohio, he could be guilty of felony possession of child pornography or felony pandering (transmission to another) obscenity involving a child subject.

IslandRed
02-19-2010, 09:11 PM
I'll take a stab: I think he used the webcam for naughty purposes, and as webcams do, they take stills and save them inside the program. Next person who opened up the laptop saw them.

So yeah, he misbehaved at home, but he left the proof on the computer.

Doesn't mean the school uncovered the evidence through spying, even though they had the capability to turn on the camera for locating purposes.

Maybe?


IF that was the case, all they need was the cache or the history. If the kid was dumb enough to take inappropriate pics with the web cam, then the school owns the images, not the student. Dom's scenario is the only one that gives the school the slightest leg to stand on.

HOWEVER, if they were activating/viewing while he was in the process, then shame on them.

I kind of agree with both of those. In all the articles, it's implied but not specifically stated that the photograph in question was taken by the school using the remote activation feature. Makes quite the bit of difference, I think. It's unforgivable if the school did it, but if the kid took the picture and got busted with it on his school-owned computer while at school, tough.

The school system still had no business sending those computers out without disclosure about the webcams, though.