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A substitute teacher unwittingly bought a stolen laptop, leading her sex chats to be spied on by a recovery service. She's now suing those involved.
Case will reportedly revolve around whether teacher was honest or naughty

We've heard about rental companies spying on customers with webcams, technicians installing spying malware, and even schools spying on students at home with webcams.  But a new case in the U.S. District Court for Southern Ohio has taken things to a whole new level.

The case is full of confusing twists and turns and risque material.  

It began in April 2008 when Dusty Ray Powell, a Clark County School District vocational student had his school-issued laptop stolen at a local public library.  Mr. Powell filed a police report.  Soon after, a ninth grade student at Kiefer Alternative School, Christopher Lebaroff, claims to have purchased the laptop from an unidentified individual for $40 USD at a bus station.  

Mr. Lebaroff was a student in the class of Susan Clements-Jeffrey, a long-time substitute teacher (now 52 years old) at the alternative high school.  He heard his teacher was shopping for laptops and offered her the non-working laptop for $60 USD.

Thinking it was a great deal, ostensibly, Ms. Clements-Jeffrey purchased the laptop and had a fellow teacher install a new operating system and necessary software.  At home, she put the computer to a rather personal use.  Recently widowed, Ms. Clements-Jeffrey had "renewed a high school romance with Plaintiff Carlton "Butch" Smith, who lived in Boston."

"Butch" and his new lover reported regularly stripping down and exchanging sexually explicit emails, instant messages, and webcam sessions to help the distance relationship work.

But unbeknownst to them, they were not the only ones watching the sexually heated exchanges.  The school district had equipped its laptops with Absolute Software's "LoJack for Laptops", a hardware and software combination that looked to recover laptops even if their hard drives were wiped clean.

When Absolute Software switched on the device, it communicated the computer's new IP address to the company, allowing company representatives to track it.  It also did much more.  It downloaded spyware that allowed the company to take screenshots of the active computer and intercept email and other messages sent from it.

The company "theft recovery officer", Kyle Magnus, took explicit screenshots of Ms. Clements-Jeffrey.  States court documents [PDF]:

In those screen-shots Clements-Jeffrey is not wearing any clothes and Smith is naked from the waist up.  In one shot, Clements-Jeffrey has her legs spread wide apart.

Mr. Magnus then handed those pictures over to two local police officers -- Geoffrey Ashworth and Noel Lopez -- who reportedly traveled to Ms. Clements-Jeffrey's residence on June 25, 2008 to arrest her for receiving stolen property.  The officers handcuffed her, laughed at her, and called her "stupid" allegedly, for claiming not to realize the computer was stolen.  They also called her chats, which they prominently displayed pictures of, "disgusting".

Ms. Clements-Jeffrey was briefly charged with receiving stolen property, but the charges were dismissed on July 7, 2008.

The teacher then filed suit against the City of Springfield, Absolute Software, the officers involved, and Kyle Magnus.  Her lawyers argued that obtaining the explicit images without her permission caused emotional harm, violated her Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable searches and seizures, violated her Fourteenth Amendment right to due process, and violated several other laws (the Electronic Communications Privacy Act and the Stored Communications Act).

The presiding judge, U.S. District Court Judge Walter H. Rice struck down [PDF] a request by the defendants and allowed the case to precede to trial this week.  While he disagreed with the claims of Fourth Amendment violations, he said that the Electronic Communications Privacy and Stored Communications Acts were likely violated by the behavior of the company.

The judge ruled that the case could proceed as Ms. Clements-Jeffrey did not have reason to believe the computer was stolen as she was unaware of her student's criminal history and did not realize obscured serial numbers were a possible sign of theft.  The judge ruled that she had reasonable cause to believe the $60 offer was reasonable, given that the machine was 2 years old and non-working when she obtained it.

This story is certainly a wild one, and we'll be eager to hear how it turns out.  The decision could ultimately set a precedent -- at least in Ohio -- as to how to deal with cases of corporate and government web-cam spying.

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By Shining Arcanine on 9/2/2011 7:26:03 PM , Rating: -1
If the judge rules in her favor, the recovery rates of stolen hardware will drop and companies in this area will lose their customers. Ruling in her favor has the consequence that people trying to recover hardware will be barred from trying to obtain personally identifiable information as to the people using the system, which is the only way these things are ever recovered. People think that IP tracking can be used for this, but the police are incompetent at turning IP addresses into search warrants. If you do not believe me, look at this talk given at defcon:

By idiot77 on 9/2/2011 7:45:42 PM , Rating: 5
She's not suing because of the fact they traced it. She's suing because they did something stupid, which happens to be illegal. If had been merely illegal, it probably would have been forgiven.

By BSquared on 9/2/2011 7:54:25 PM , Rating: 5
I doubt it would lead to reduced recoveries, it just means the companies can't willy nilly release nude photographs of suspects. It's basically taking pornographic pictures of someone and disseminating them without permission or knowledge. I doubt the police needed to see those pictures, a face shot would have been sufficient. I bet there was a bunch of geeks in the monitoring center fapping away at this 50 something, why else would they keep screen caps?

There are less invasive ways of recovering items, and one of the best I've seen are the ones that lock the machine at the BIOS level, throw a screen up on post with an 800 number that basically says "This item maybe stolen, please call this number and a shipping container post paid will be sent for its return"

By smitty3268 on 9/2/2011 10:53:33 PM , Rating: 1
They tracked her down using the IP address. They only used the pictures to confirm they had the right person after knocking on her door.

By smitty3268 on 9/2/2011 10:58:02 PM , Rating: 5
Anyway, it seems to me like the company should have used a little more discretion. There was no reason they had to present the police with nude images - they had complete control over the machine and could take as many as they wanted, and surely they could have taken a few before she got undressed. If they had done that, I bet this lawsuit never would have happened. Instead, they'll be facing a jury and asking them to decide that a company can spy on an innocent person and spread embarassing info about them to the public - not a good position to argue, regardless of the actual merits of the case.

By Aloonatic on 9/3/2011 2:08:37 AM , Rating: 1
In those screen-shots Clements-Jeffrey is not wearing any clothes and Smith is naked from the waist up. In one shot, Clements-Jeffrey has her legs spread wide apart.
They only used the pictures to confirm they had the right person after knocking on her door.
I'm not sure how people answer the door where you live, but if that's the norm, I might just move over your way and become a Jehovah's Witnesses, and help the more attractive women there see the light :o)

By Wolfpup on 9/4/2011 8:10:58 AM , Rating: 2
This is really messed up. In the first place, does anyone want a computer that could be remotely spying on you at any time like this? I had no idea these recovery services could do that.

But I can't believe how she was treated. There's zero reason the police needed nude pictures, and it's just disgusting what they apparently said to her.

Her story sounds believable to me. I mean it's probably a low end system...and heck, a c50 14" Acer is going for $230 this week. A 2 year old, completely dead system going for $60 doesn't exactly sound unreasonable, and I seriously doubt a teacher is going to be intentionally buying stolen goods.

The police and this company come off bad here IMO.

Oh I love the cops too... "disgusting"? Really? They're scared of sex? We're to believe they're sanctimonious virgins? Somehow I suspect that wasn't their real problem...

By smitty3268 on 9/4/2011 3:19:53 PM , Rating: 2
Her story sounds believable to me. I mean it's probably a low end system...and heck, a c50 14" Acer is going for $230 this week. A 2 year old, completely dead system going for $60 doesn't exactly sound unreasonable, and I seriously doubt a teacher is going to be intentionally buying stolen goods.

I have no idea if she would knowingly buy stolen goods or not, but it certainly sounds believable to me as well. My boss sells our companies old computers for $20-$40, and they are a little bit older than this but the alternative is just throwing them away in the trash. I don't even know where the serial # on my laptop is, and I wouldn't be checking for it if i was buying one.

By Aloonatic on 9/4/2011 6:06:28 PM , Rating: 2
Yeah, I can buy that. No pun intended. Happens here (UK) too, especially since laws about businesses having to recycle electrical goods came into force.

By Orac4prez on 9/4/2011 6:36:25 AM , Rating: 5
I don't know about you guys, but I'm recognised by my face. People don't need a crotch shot/full frontal view to know who I am!!!

By jeff834 on 9/6/2011 8:19:29 AM , Rating: 3
Identify her how? Confirming she has a mole on her inner thigh?

By nocturne_81 on 9/3/2011 6:53:40 PM , Rating: 3
Lo jack ability is not the issue -- it's the simple fact that in many cases, these protections are being abused on the provider's side in direct violation of their user privacy agreements. Not to mention that using the webcam and intercepting private communications is a direct violation of many state/federal wiretapping/espionage statutes and privacy protections. None of that extra info actually helps recover the device, and it's just too much of a temptation for the low-paid employees at the recovery firm.

I really hope that this gets bumped/appealed up to a federal court, so the obvious outcome on the side of privacy will be federally mandated.

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