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PA School Defends Web-Cam Spying As Security Measure, Denies Misuse 364

tekgoblin writes "The Lower Merion School District of Pennsylvania was recently accused of privacy invasion. Now the school has released an official response to the allegations. According to the school, the security feature was installed in the laptops as an anti-theft device and was not intended to invade privacy. The software that was installed would take a photo of the person using the laptop after it was stolen to give to the authorities. Now this may be what it was intended for, but it seems that someone didn't get the memo." The district's claim that it "has not used the tracking feature or web cam for any other purpose or in any other manner whatsoever" doesn't square with the allegations which set off this whole storm. And if there was nothing wrong with it, why does the school say it won't start using the snooping feature again without "express written notification to all students and families"?
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PA School Defends Web-Cam Spying As Security Measure, Denies Misuse

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  • Re:In-home Reprimand (Score:5, Informative)

    by Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) on Sunday February 21, 2010 @03:51PM (#31221736)

    And furthermore, WTF is their problem with masturbation?

    What are you talking about?

    The kid wasn't choking kojak - he was eating candy.
    Dumbass on the other side of the camera thought a piece of Mike & Ike candy was an illegal drug.
    Who knows what kind 'zero-tolerance' befuddled mindset lets them decide that something that looks like a pill was "illegal" via just a webcam shot...

  • Better link (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 21, 2010 @03:51PM (#31221738)

    For answers from the school districts side: Update from Dr. McGinley regarding high school student laptop security - 2/19/10 [] - better than the link in the submission or even the article for that matter.

  • Re:In-home Reprimand (Score:5, Informative)

    by TheWanderingHermit (513872) on Sunday February 21, 2010 @03:52PM (#31221748)

    It wasn't masturbation. I can't remember if it was in an article linked to by /. or from Google news, but the student involved was eating candy that they mistook for drugs. I can't remember the name of the candy, but it looked close enough to capsule or caplet form that the school people just assumed (intentional use of that word) that it was illegal drugs.

    I hope the student ends up able to retire on the punitive damages he gets. While it's not the best for him, it'd make the school district and others think about it more. They won't ever see this based on ethics, but they might make changes based on fear of damage awards.

  • by Shadow of Eternity (795165) on Sunday February 21, 2010 @03:55PM (#31221776)

    You must be new here. School's are FAMOUS for long strings of abysmally unintelligent decisions. Hell, the most recent SCotUS case involved a stripsearch conducted by multiple adults because one student with a bad disciplinary record got caught with advil in a folder that had been loaned to her by another student at least several days before.

  • by WrongSizeGlass (838941) on Sunday February 21, 2010 @04:02PM (#31221818)

    Based on this Laptop Capabilities at Home [] info from the LMSD website, they do expect the kids to take the laptops home.

  • Re:In-home Reprimand (Score:5, Informative)

    by kabloom (755503) on Sunday February 21, 2010 @04:18PM (#31221964) Homepage

    I think the link you're looking for is here [].

  • Re:In-home Reprimand (Score:4, Informative)

    by insufflate10mg (1711356) on Sunday February 21, 2010 @04:27PM (#31222042)
    The student said on MSNBC he was caught with Mike n' Ikes (or some kind of candy) on camera, and they believed he had illegal pharmaceutical drugs.
  • Re:In-home Reprimand (Score:2, Informative)

    by BitterOak (537666) on Sunday February 21, 2010 @04:34PM (#31222106)

    So then why was a student reprimanded for their in home behaviour with a picture from the webcam used as evidence?

    According to the replies of some of his fellow students, he had taken the pictures with the webcam himself and left them on the hard drive when he returned the laptop to the school, and someone else accidently stumbled on them.

    As for what he was actually doing, there are conflicting reports. Some say he was smoking weed; others say he was eating Mike and Ike candies which the school official mistook for drugs. They also report he was not disciplined by the school, but the school official did contact the parents out of concern for the student's safety.

    Unfortunately, the school official did not make clear to the parents how the photograph was obtained, and the parents jumped to unwarranted conclusions. I'm sure this will all come out as the lawsuit progresses.

  • Re:Sounds Half-Assed (Score:4, Informative)

    by Fastolfe (1470) on Sunday February 21, 2010 @04:44PM (#31222208)

    Remote webcam activation is a pretty standard feature of anti-theft software. The idea is to locate the laptop (via network connections, whatever), and identify the thief (webcam snapshots). The two goals work together. Check these stories out: []

  • Re:One possibility (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 21, 2010 @04:54PM (#31222350)
    The improper behavior they accused him of was drug use. The evidence was a web-cam picture of him eating a pill-like object in his own home. Turns out it was Mike and Ike candy.
  • Re:In-home Reprimand (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 21, 2010 @05:01PM (#31222424)

    I can also see this as a case of the religious right pushing sex ed classes that do not work. Absitnance only... Comon you kidding.. Sometimes they dont even tell them about STDs. No this is the prudes hoping to hide sex back in the marital bedroom.. you know like in the 1800s.

  • Re:In-home Reprimand (Score:5, Informative)

    by laura20 (21566) on Sunday February 21, 2010 @05:11PM (#31222526) Homepage

    Cite? I've seen no claims that the student stole the laptop; there's a big difference between the school district claiming it was activated "upon a report of a suspected lost, stolen or missing laptop []" and the student *actually* stole the laptop. Now maybe that's what happened -- he filed a false report or he stole someone else's -- but given that it would be a simple way to shut down the story the silence makes me doubt. "Student X reported his laptop missing, we activated the security system, he still had possession of the laptop, we disciplined him for the false report/fraud." Boom, story (mostly) dead. Instead we have them disciplining him for suspected drug use, and strangely vague and general denials.

  • Re:In-home Reprimand (Score:4, Informative)

    by haruharaharu (443975) on Sunday February 21, 2010 @06:54PM (#31223560) Homepage
    Sociopaths don't believe that - they know they're hurting people, but the don't really care. The word you're looking for is crusader.
  • Re:Security (Score:2, Informative)

    by stormy_petral (978505) on Sunday February 21, 2010 @07:57PM (#31224066) Homepage
    Um, the cameras on these units are not hidden. Just not obvious at first if you don't know its there.
  • Re:In-home Reprimand (Score:3, Informative)

    by Imrik (148191) on Sunday February 21, 2010 @08:22PM (#31224296) Homepage

    However, in many places there are laws to prevent private individuals from taking pictures of others without their consent.

  • Re:In-home Reprimand (Score:4, Informative)

    by commodore64_love (1445365) on Sunday February 21, 2010 @08:30PM (#31224362) Journal

    >>>>There's laws to prevent law enforcement officers from doing that. There's no such restriction on private individuals. If the school saw him making a drug deal through the camera, they could freely take the evidence to the police, and the police could use it.

    Bzzzz. The school teachers and administrators are employees of the State government and virtually every member state in the Union forbids a state government employee from entering (or peering) into a private home to snoop around...... unless a warrant is first obtained from an impartial judge. So any evidence found would immediately be thrown-out in a court of law.

    Anyway this happened in the member state of Pennsylvania, so here's the relevant constitutional law:
    - Security From Searches and Seizures
    - Section 8.
    - The people shall be secure in their persons, houses, papers and possessions from unreasonable searches and seizures, and no warrant to search any place or to seize any person or things shall issue without describing them as nearly as may be, nor without probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation subscribed by the affiant.

  • Re:In-home Reprimand (Score:2, Informative)

    by commodore64_love (1445365) on Sunday February 21, 2010 @08:41PM (#31224478) Journal

    >>>But why should the student be able to retire on the punitive damages he gets?

    The purpose of punitive damages is to cause financial "pain" to the company. Otherwise if the fines were only $1000, then companies might decide, like Ford did in the 1970s that its cheaper to just pay-off people that die in exploding Pintos, than to fix the problem.

    Punitive damages tilt the accounting balance in favor of the company doing the right thing, rather than the wrong thing. And even though this school is not a "company" per se, the concept is still the same ---- punish this school so severely that others schools will think twice before they commit wrongdoing.

    >>>the surveillance officer made a judgment error can happen and should be forgivable or constitute a minor punishment.

    It isn't minor. Even in the European Union it rises to the level of a Constitutional law that was violated by a government employee. It is a major crime, not a minor one.

  • by blackraven14250 (902843) * on Sunday February 21, 2010 @11:21PM (#31225756)
    Sexting is kind of a misnomer. It's taking a nude picture, sexual or not, and texting it. Some pictures that fall under the label would fall on each side of the line.

Mirrors should reflect a little before throwing back images. -- Jean Cocteau