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Print 42 comment(s) - last by Hieyeck.. on Feb 24 at 8:45 AM

School district remotely activated webcams of school laptops in student's homes

The use of technology in classrooms around the country is a great thing. Students often find learning much easier and more enjoyable when computers are integrated into the classroom curriculum. Sometimes that same technology can also have serious consequences for students and school districts.

The FBI has officially announced that it is probing a case in which a Pennsylvania school district allegedly activated webcams of school provided laptops that were in use in student's homes without prior consent or warning. The FBI is investigating to determine if the school broke federal wiretap or computer intrusion laws according to an official close to the case.

The FBI became involved in the case when a student and his family filed suit against the Lower Merion school district after the student was allegedly told by school vice principal Lindy Matsko that he was "engaged in improper behavior in his home" with Matsko citing evidence of a photo "embedded" in the student's laptop.

They’re trying to allege that when Blake was holding two Mike & Ikes in his hand, which he apparently loves and eats religiously, that those were pills, and somehow he’s involved in selling drugs,” said the family's attorney, Mark Haltzman.

The district issued Apple laptops to all 2,300 students at two high schools within the district. School officials maintain that the remote activation of webcams is a security feature and is only used to find lost or stolen laptops. According to the district, webcams have been activated remotely 42 times over the last 14 months – 28 laptops have been recovered using the system.

The students reportedly signed documents at school to receive the laptops stating that the webcams could be remotely activated, but the families of the students were not notified. Since the suit was filed, the district reports that it has discontinued the practice of activating webcams.

District spokesman Doug Young, "It's clear what was in place [to notify parents] was insufficient, and that's unacceptable."

Ari Schwartz, vice president at the Center for Democracy and Technology, wondered, "What about the (potential) abuse of power from higher ups, trying to find out more information about the head of the PTA? If you don't think about the privacy and security consequences of using this kind of technology, you run into problems."

Witold Walczak, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania hit the nail on the head when he said, "This is an age where kids explore their sexuality, so there's a lot of that going on in the [kid's] room. This is fodder for child porn."



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Did I read that right...student consent?
By rtrski on 2/22/2010 11:01:51 AM , Rating: 5
The 'students' signed something consenting to the fact that the cameras might be remotely activated??

Um, correct me if I'm wrong, but how can minors supply legal consent?




RE: Did I read that right...student consent?
By Motoman on 2/22/2010 11:03:48 AM , Rating: 5
They can't. And at any rate, if the school turned on a webcam and caught a 13-year-old girl naked in her bedroom, guess what? You just created and distributed child porn, and I hope they take the entire school district down because of it.

The very notion that ANYBODY in the school district thought this was OK is absolutely mind-boggling. Every single administrator in that district should at least lose their jobs - and some of them should go to jail.


RE: Did I read that right...student consent?
By callmeroy on 2/22/10, Rating: -1
RE: Did I read that right...student consent?
By Motoman on 2/22/2010 11:29:51 AM , Rating: 5
I don't care if a cheeseburger pops out of the damn USB port when the camera's on. The fact of the matter is they're turning on a camera on a computer that is very likely to be in the bedroom of a minor where that minor may be doing something totally innocent, like getting dressed, and then *boom* - kiddie porn.


RE: Did I read that right...student consent?
By tastyratz on 2/22/2010 12:33:36 PM , Rating: 5
Motoman you just made my day. Sadly a cheeseburger will not pop out of the usb slot but the day that it does will be a joyous one for me yet.

+1 good sir for comedic value and truth.


By Motoman on 2/22/2010 1:31:24 PM , Rating: 3
I live to serve. Or is that "sever?" Whatever.

...you want fries with that?


RE: Did I read that right...student consent?
By snikt on 2/22/2010 2:07:37 PM , Rating: 2
I want my Cheeseburger-enabled USB port nao!


RE: Did I read that right...student consent?
By Samus on 2/22/2010 9:02:33 PM , Rating: 2
So this is where all that amateur content on pornhub comes from.


By eman007 on 2/22/2010 10:51:48 PM , Rating: 4
If no one does anything about it, Pedobear will.
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RE: Did I read that right...student consent?
By smackababy on 2/22/2010 10:59:08 AM , Rating: 1
The lawsuit I believe concerned an 18 year old using the laptops.


RE: Did I read that right...student consent?
By Motoman on 2/22/2010 11:11:09 AM , Rating: 5
It's a high school...so while there may be some 18 year olds, the vast majority are going to be under 18.

...either way, the people responsible for this should be severely punished.


RE: Did I read that right...student consent?
By ChristopherO on 2/22/2010 11:40:14 AM , Rating: 2
What surprised me is that the AP version of this story listed the high school kids as putting tape on the camera to enforce their privacy...

What happened to the class geeks? Had someone given me a laptop, I would have looked for software they can use to control it and subsequently removed it. Are these "loaners" and thus they're prevented from doing that? If they're not loaners, no one can force you what software you need installed, especially if it can remotely control your PC.

I hope that kid that was caught eating candy gets a paid-for trip to an ivy league school out of this (provided he gets accepted), and maybe the school district gets the privilege of paying off the family's mortgage too. Oh, and everyone loses their jobs, in addition to whomever being brought up on charges. I don't care if it pleas down to community-service, but they need to suffer the indignity of being in court.

And as someone else said -- kids can't sign a consent form. Any adult should have known that. It's an absolutely and totally meaningless document unless the child was 18, and thus not a child. (so maybe 10-20% of the senior class falls into that category?)


By Hieyeck on 2/24/2010 8:45:57 AM , Rating: 2
Um...

I think this says it all: http://www.xkcd.com/538/


RE: Did I read that right...student consent?
By MozeeToby on 2/22/2010 11:54:50 AM , Rating: 2
Actually the lawsuit is moving towards class action status, so it would involve all 2300 students at the school. I sincerely hope heads roll as a result of this one, shame that the school district and therefore the taxpayers will be the ones to pay for this incredibly stupid decision.


By rcc on 2/22/2010 2:06:02 PM , Rating: 3
Ah yes, class action, where the lawyers make out like bandits (fitting, eh) and everyone else gets $10.


By GaryJohnson on 2/22/2010 12:25:55 PM , Rating: 2
It was a 16-year old.


RE: Did I read that right...student consent?
By Reclaimer77 on 2/22/2010 11:34:48 AM , Rating: 2
What does any of this have to do with teaching kids ? That's what I want to know.

Everyone's head should roll who had anything to do with the decision to spy on students when they were at home !


RE: Did I read that right...student consent?
By Targon on 2/22/2010 11:41:20 AM , Rating: 2
In theory, the idea is that the camera can be turned on to help recover a STOLEN laptop. The problem here is that the camera was being turned on without the "theft" portion.


RE: Did I read that right...student consent?
By Mitch101 on 2/22/2010 12:53:02 PM , Rating: 2
One of our guys in Denver heard the school suspected someone of dealing drugs and activated the camera hoping to catch them in the act. They didn't and the family is suing for the emotional trauma of the kid being suspect. Not sure of the truth to the story but Im sure lots of speculations are flying.


RE: Did I read that right...student consent?
By AWeav09 on 2/22/2010 1:27:59 PM , Rating: 5
Even if this was the reason behind the school's activating the camera, how exactly is it the school's responsibility to catch the neighborhood drug dealer? Punishing a student for having drugs on school grounds is one thing, spying on a student in his home in the hope of catching him dealing drugs is entirely different and certainly unacceptable.


By Mitch101 on 2/22/2010 1:43:35 PM , Rating: 2
Just pointing out one of the stories I heard when I first heard of this before reading the article about it.

Whatever the motiv of the school they stepped way way way over the line but I didn't think I needed to specify that.

Its a federal issue now and anything remotely poor in judgment from this school and staff should come out now as Im sure everything is under a magnifying glass. When the Feds get done it should be one the safest schools for kids. I wish the feds would look into my kids school and right into each and every PTA member.


RE: Did I read that right...student consent?
By wiz220 on 2/22/2010 3:08:01 PM , Rating: 2
No, the district should have just reported this to the police and turned it OVER to them, THEN assited them IF asked, and that's IF they had real information regarding drug dealing.

What I wanna know is, when the hell did schools become another branch of the police?? Why the hell are we seeing all of these schools acting like parents and thinking they have the right to punish kids for things done outside of school (this is by no means the first time a case regarding schools overstepping their boundaries has come up recently)? School administrators seem to be getting full of themselves and hopefully this case will put a stop to it, or atleast get them to think twice. Our tax dollars pay schools to teach, not to be private investigator wannabes.


By JediJeb on 2/22/2010 4:00:47 PM , Rating: 2
I agree that schools should not do this, and really should not have to do it. The problem is there are a lot of parents these days the don't take enough responsibility in their parenting to keep the schools from needing to do more than simply teach. Mix that with some of the administrators these days that think they should be teaching everything from math to morals (some would rather not teach the math) and our schools have become something most of us who graduated over twenty years ago would not even recognize.

What they did was wrong on so many levels. A question I have though is how many parents saw their children bring home a new laptop and never inquired if there were rules or agreements that went along with it? The ability for this to happen should not have been as big of a suprise as it was, unless the school took efforts to keep it quiet. If my child brought home a laptop I would have been asking under what conditions its use was allowed, and if the school had full rights to it I would have warned my child not to be putting things on it they did not want to be public, just as you would not put private files on your work computer.

The blame lies with the school admin, but it is also the partents responsibility to be keeping an eye on that admin. How many parents today even know who their school board member is? Or question them about what they believe about how a school should be run? The only way to prevent this in the future is for the entire population to be active in the governing process as we should be instead of just handing the responsibility off to whoever stands up and says they will take it.


By rippleyaliens on 2/23/2010 1:43:27 AM , Rating: 2
What puzzles me.. Even with a Web CAM, that is not a 100% reliable way to figure out, where the laptop is.
90% of the time, the OS is re-loaded, on stolen laptops, ROFL..


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