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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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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.


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