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

Posted by timothy
from the great-and-powerful-oz's-big-lie-technique dept.
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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  • Security (Score:5, Funny)

    by srussia (884021) on Sunday February 21, 2010 @04:31PM (#31221540)
    Sure. That's what the body scanners at the airports for as well.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 21, 2010 @04:35PM (#31221598)

      If cartoons are CP, then fuzzy grey images out real kids are definitely CP.

      Double standards suck. We need consistency.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 21, 2010 @05:21PM (#31222000)

        We need consistency.

        Hahaha, that'll never happen.

        When a drawn cartoon child has more rights than some humans, you know something is wrong.

        Sadly, double-standards are what makes the world tick.
        Some are beneficial to society, but, sadly, some of them are just downright retarded in every sense of the word.

    • Re:Security (Score:5, Insightful)

      by mellon (7048) on Sunday February 21, 2010 @05:08PM (#31221878) Homepage

      Yup. The irony here of course is that by creating this kerfuffle, they've completely eliminated any actual security the webcam system might have given them. Now everybody knows that these laptops have hidden cameras, so they'll just tape over them. So there's little chance that the cameras will ever actually be used to identify any thief now.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by dimeglio (456244)

        Once upon a time I could have said, have the school buy Apple laptops. Seems that's no longer a deterrent. Oh, I know, how about dumb laptops? They need to be connected to the school's terminal server to provide any applications. Not sure there is such a thing and they are likely more expensive but it would likely make it less interesting for people to steal and also never be obsolete.

      • Re:Security (Score:4, Insightful)

        by 10101001 10101001 (732688) on Sunday February 21, 2010 @08:12PM (#31223684) Journal

        Now everybody knows that these laptops have hidden cameras, so they'll just tape over them.

        No, odds are good that taping over the hidden cameras will be a punishable offense. Perhaps it can be conspiracy to engage in theft, considering their given lame excuse for the camera.

        So there's little chance that the cameras will ever actually be used to identify any thief now.

        Odds are good, only idiot thieves would have been caught anyways...and they would have likely been caught anyways. Ie, idiot thieves would neither (a) wipe the HD (and the spying software) nor (b) boot from a clean medium to investigate the laptop's data (and hence not run/load the spying software). Of course, if you're not wiping the HD, you're likely to be caught at some point with significant evidence that the laptop you sold/are using is stolen. And if you're simply running the built-in software, odds are good that you'll visit some website, be auto-logged in, and in your snooping into the persons account be pretty traceable by your IP address.

        Now, if they had some sort of hardware GPS device that could be remotely activated and give the GPS unit's location, that'd be a whole other story. Of course, a thief could still potentially rip out the GPS device (presuming it's not well integrated into the motherboard), but it'd be a lot less obvious that a school would pay for the expense of an always-available GPS and would be a much better deterrent to *announce* the damn device. No, the odds are good that school officials presumed they owned the laptop and could remotely access the webcam whenever they pleased.

        That they would later try to justify it with some school-wide policy or point out specific misdeeds to justify it really doesn't cover the obvious issues that (a) a thief could likely be another minor student and (b) you could catch said thief in a sexual act (age of consent is 16 in Pennsylvania). In short, the simple fact that the produced images from a hidden camera are such a hot bed for possibly criminal action (I mean, what part of "hidden camera" and "school" sounds like a good idea?) really shows a severe lack of forethought at minimum and at worst a casual massive overextension of authority. I mean, what sort of legal predicament would an actual full-time, legal guardian be in for placing a hidden camera in their 16 year old child's bedroom?

    • Have you seen this? (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Grendel Drago (41496)

      Matt Skala's modest proposal [sooke.bc.ca] was apparently written before this story broke. Yes, his satire is outpacing reality, but only just barely.

  • In-home Reprimand (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Luthair (847766) on Sunday February 21, 2010 @04:32PM (#31221552)
    So then why was a student reprimanded for their in home behaviour with a picture from the webcam used as evidence?
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      And furthermore, WTF is their problem with masturbation?
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by antifoidulus (807088)
        Because for some strange reason Americans are squeamish about everything sexual, and as a result have the highest rates of STDs in the G-7.....
        • by feepness (543479) on Sunday February 21, 2010 @04:42PM (#31221674) Homepage

          Because for some strange reason Americans are squeamish about everything sexual, and as a result have the highest rates of STDs in the G-7.....

          I can also see the case for that being proof of the opposite...

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by obarthelemy (160321)

            whoosh. The idea is: sex will happen anyway. The choice is between being educated (and hopefully at least a bit mature) about it, or the wild west US approach.

          • by Stephen Samuel (106962) <samuel@bc g r e e n . c om> on Sunday February 21, 2010 @08:48PM (#31223974) Homepage Journal
            We're squeamish about oral sex (i.e. talking publicly about it). This leaves kids participating in sexual activity blindly (OK. Adults too). Lack of knowledge doesn't mean lack of action, just lack of intelligent action.

            Unfortunately, some people seem to think that lack of training about the issues around sex will discourage kids from participation in sex that has been the norm since long before we understood enough to talk about (or, for that matter, even had language to talk about it). It's a process that only works for people who confuse belief and hope with reality.

            I think that this explains why some of these same people confuse things like fantasy gaming with real devil worship. ..... and it explains why states that have the most restrictions about sex education also tend to have the most STDs and teen pregnancies.

      • And furthermore, WTF is their problem with masturbation?

        Has it finally been leaked that that's what the "inappropriate behavior" was?

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          OK, I feel bad now for not saying in that post that I doubt that's what the kid was doing. The press certainly didn't do him any favors by carefully revealing everything in this story except for the actual "private act" he got busted for. Even so, it's pretty obvious that you wouldn't want to have a laptop from this school in the same room with you unless your pants were on.
        • Re:In-home Reprimand (Score:4, Informative)

          by insufflate10mg (1711356) on Sunday February 21, 2010 @05:27PM (#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.
          • by Foobar of Borg (690622) on Sunday February 21, 2010 @07:59PM (#31223588)

            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.

            Even if he was toking the reefer while getting getting blown by two thirteen year-old girls, it is none of their fucking business. This would be like a cop barging into your place, having a peak, and saying "Okay. Nothing illegal going on. Have a nice day."

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

              by twidarkling (1537077) on Sunday February 21, 2010 @08:37PM (#31223884)

              Except not. 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.

              • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

                by Imrik (148191)

                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 @09:30PM (#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:5, Informative)

        by Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) on Sunday February 21, 2010 @04:51PM (#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...

        • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 21, 2010 @04:55PM (#31221772)

          The kid wasn't choking kojak - he was eating candy.

          Ahh, so that's what they call it these days...

          • by garompeta (1068578) on Monday February 22, 2010 @12:07AM (#31225670)
            If I were in that school after knowing that they are snooping us, I would deliberately "choke kojak" (blink, blink) in front of the camera, even worse, pointing towards the camera.
            Then I would accuse them for secretly setting up a child pornography network.

            Yeah, I used to be terrible in school...

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

          by Ethanol-fueled (1125189) * on Sunday February 21, 2010 @05:03PM (#31221830) Homepage Journal
          I bet that some kids were observed nude or even jacking off, but the observers never reported it because they'd be admitting to viewing child porn.

          Semi-related story: when I was in high school, I thought it would be funny to use my student I.D. to crush my Sweet tarts into a fine powder and chop them up like lines of cocaine. My music teacher sent me to the counselor's office even though he knew what the powder was. The counselor asked me how I knew how to do that, and I told her I saw it in the move South Central (which was true).

          I had always hoped that naive, alarmist authorities were only a high school thing. Then bam, 9/11, and here we are.
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Anonymous Coward

            When I was in highschool, I had considered doing something a bit more insideous, and thankfully I never did it:

            Fill a bunch of fishing weight bags (conveniently the correct size for a hit of cocaine) with powdered sugar, and leave a trail of them going into the assistant principle's office, then chop up some lines of the stuff on one of those magnetic locker mirrors on his desk.

            Our Assistant principal was continually roaming the halls looking for even the most minor of infractions (like people holding hands

        • by techno-vampire (666512) on Sunday February 21, 2010 @05:07PM (#31221870) Homepage
          The kid wasn't choking kojak - he was eating candy.

          Are you sure he wasn't eating Candi? If so, and depending on their ages, they might have been violating some sort of blue-nose law about teenage sex.

        • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 21, 2010 @06:08PM (#31222492)

          The scary part is in the summary: the people in charge believe they have done no wrong and are doing what's best. It's like a sociopath who thinks the ends justify the means and never believes his or her actions are wrong or could hurt anyone. These are the most dangerous people that free societies must be vigilant against.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by jc42 (318812)

          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...

          It's probably the same mindset as the school officials in that story a while back, where they called in the police SWAT team because a kid had brought a large burrito to school, and they thought it was a weapon of some sort.

          It is interesting that this school's officials are still publicly claiming that their cameras are only used in case of theft, and not deali

        • by anyGould (1295481) on Monday February 22, 2010 @12:58AM (#31226026)

          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...

          Which brings us back to the original issue - if the "security system" is only used in the case of theft,

          • What cause did they have to activate it in the first place? (the student obviously hasn't reported it stolen - he has it)
          • Assuming for the moment that they did believe that it was stolen (and were thus justified in turning on the feature), why did they continue observing once they saw the student on-camera (hence proving he is in possession)?
          • And assuming further that they happened to turn on the camera, right at the moment he was doing whatever he's not supposed to be doing, since it's obviously not related to theft of the equipment, on what grounds did they decide they had authority to punish the child?

          The whole thing stinks, IMO.

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

        by TheWanderingHermit (513872) on Sunday February 21, 2010 @04:52PM (#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 Luthair (847766)

          I don't know that I would hope that any damages are awarded in the case, it simply costs their friends and neighbours who are tax payers for the board, rather than the individuals responsible for the abuse (of power). That said, this school board seems extremely well off, I mean Macbooks for all their students, how many boards can afford that?

          • by Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) on Sunday February 21, 2010 @05:36PM (#31222120)

            I don't know that I would hope that any damages are awarded in the case, it simply costs their friends and neighbours who are tax payers for the board, rather than the individuals responsible for the abuse (of power).

            Yep, I would much rather see everyone involved - especially the decision makers - convicted of some sort of pedophile related sex crime. That will effectively take them out of circulation and will prevent them from ever again being a position of authority where they can exercise their stupidity on others. If zero tolerance on drugs is good enough for the kids then society's zero tolerance on anything that can be remotely confused for pedophilia is good enough for the administrators.

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

          by kabloom (755503) on Sunday February 21, 2010 @05:18PM (#31221964) Homepage

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

          • by DJRumpy (1345787) on Sunday February 21, 2010 @08:29PM (#31223838)

            Any possible excuses the school district can claim go up in smoke with the simple fact that they collected a still image on a laptop that was not reported as stolen. They basically took a picture with their own hand in the cookie jar. Unless they can prove that a claim was filed on the laptop in question, they are fucked, not to put too fine a point on it.

            The whole idea of enabling a remote cam capability on a laptop in use by a child is disgusting on it's face. I don't care what 'benefits' they claim it produces. They could just as easily collect IP info, find the provider who owns those IP's, and track it down via that route.

            The idiot that thought this was a 'great security feature' needs a little 'special time' in a local penitentiary along with any complicit school board members.

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward

          One almost wishes it had been masturbation. The Child Pornography charges would have given this entire case some serious teeth.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          I hope the student ends up able to retire on the punitive damages he gets

          OK, I'm risking being burnt at the stake her but what the heck.

          I speak for Europe and possibly for a whole lot of other countries outside of northern America. Over here we try and put stuff into perspective and not to overreact. I agree that the student in question's privacy was harmed. In fact that's the main point here. So, with respect to damages, all pupils that were spied upon are entitled to some. The fact that the surveillance officer made a judgment error can happen and should be forgivable or con

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Artifakt (700173)

            At this point, US society seems increasingly divided into a class structure, and some classes can expect only token punishments at most, while others are seeing serious oppression. We have cases where minors are charged with sex related offenses for being each other's victims, 12 year old girls arrested for coloring on desktops, and people are still in prisons years after DNA testing has proved they were wrongly convicted.
            So what's proportionate? Here, the main suspects draw several times the

          • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

            by zippthorne (748122)
            Do you really want the officially sanctioned price for spying on kids in their bedrooms to be "a box of candy"?
          • by gillbates (106458) on Monday February 22, 2010 @01:05AM (#31226074) Homepage Journal

            Why? Because if some administrator does not have "... his poor judgment cost the district millions..." in his performance review, others will be inclined to do the same, and worse.

            How, exactly, does one get one's privacy back - once it has been violated?

            Imagine, for a moment, if naked images of you (or your daughter) showed up on the internet? Sure, you could sue the school, but she (or you) will have to deal with it for the rest of your life. Did you know there's a statutory limit on the amount of money for which a school district can be liable? It's something like $150k - far less than the worth of someone's dignity.

            Imagine the emotional consequence faced by your daughter, if every time she got into an argument someone posted naked pictures of her as revenge. Imagine if the entire school called her dirty names because of it.

            And what does she get in return? Enough to pay for college, at maximum. Nevermind the fact that she might never marry, or might have self-esteem issues for the rest of her life. By law, her body is only worth $150k, or about a year of MBA salary.

            Sometimes, the consequences of an action are so severe that the punishment must act as a deterrent to others. There is real, permanent harm in invading someone's privacy, especially when the law limits the liability of the infringer. Sure, watching someone eat candy is relatively innocuous. However, it is only a matter of chance that the interlopers didn't watch students undressing, or in other embarrassing situations. And who knows - maybe they did and are hoping investigators don't find out.

            We don't have laws against speeding because speeders always cause accidents. Rather, we realize that excessive speed contributes to accidents, and increases the damage when accidents occur. Likewise, if we treat this incident as a mere lapse of judgment, we open the door to further abuses. Worse, because of the legislative limit on damages, it is entirely possible that the harm can never be undone or restituted.

            Incidentally, a recent study (2005?) found that public school employees are 7 (seven) times more likely to sexually abuse children than clergy. The reason why these incidents don't often make the press is because the judgments are limited in many states to $150k, rather than the millions that the church had to pay out. It kind of makes me sick that school officials enjoy a legal kind of immunity for which the Church could only hope.

          • by Maestro4k (707634) on Monday February 22, 2010 @03:42AM (#31226800) Journal

            But why should the student be able to retire on the punitive damages he gets? Sure, the whole situation stinks but an apology and maybe a box of candy should suffice as punitive damages. You seem to covet a juridical system where you're extremely happy someone make a minor error. Already with minor arguments the winner thrives and the looser parishes.

            Simple, because the school system's already shown a serious, possibly criminal (the FBI's investigating, also the state's Attorney General), lack of judgment in this case. If they're able to get off with just a small slap on the wrist, they will not learn a damn thing, and it won't be long before they "forget" what happened and do something equally hair-brained that violates more student's civil rights. It may just be an American thing (although I doubt it, stupidity knows now boundaries), but these type of people won't change their ways unless they're punished severely, and the only real method the court has do to that is to impose punitive fines. That those fines go to the plaintiff is justifiable because the plaintiff took the initiative, and risk, to go to court to try and get the school system to stop their illegal behavior.

            So it's not that we think this kid deserves such a huge reward necessarily, it's that we know the school system has to get nailed HARD for any real change to take place.

            On a related note, I doubt any of us are holding out any real hope that criminal charges will be brought against anyone for this. Or at the very least, even if there are some charges brought, it won't be against the real culprits like the school board members, the administration, etc. It'll be against some scapegoat the school system decides to pin the crimes on and throw under the bus. So only a high punitive damage award will change the system, and it sounds like it needs serious, serious change.

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

      by wisnoskij (1206448) on Sunday February 21, 2010 @04:54PM (#31221768) Homepage
      and why were they watching in the first place?
    • Re:In-home Reprimand (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Enderandrew (866215) <enderandrew@gmaUMLAUTil.com minus punct> on Sunday February 21, 2010 @05:06PM (#31221854) Homepage Journal

      I really think the whole case hinges on this point.

      They claim they never once turned on the software unless a laptop was reported stolen. Yet if they did in fact punish a student for in-home behavior on a non-stolen laptop, then they're clearly caught in a lie.

      And even if the intent was merely an anti-theft solution, I think there is still a civil suit worth pursuing (if not criminal charges) if the software was not disclosed.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by BitterOak (537666)

      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 p

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Hucko (998827)

        I do grunt IT work at a school* and any laptops that are returned are not even checked to see if there is an OS on the computer. They are just wiped and prepped for the next user, ad infinitum.

        We have been instructed that unless we are told by judicial authorities (i.e., above the principal) we are not to browse the data on the computer. Anything that would warrant our examination of the data would be handed over to the police to do anyway. If it has been returned and the user comes back asking for data, w

    • by Foobar of Borg (690622) on Sunday February 21, 2010 @07:52PM (#31223532)

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

      The other question is: What the fuck business is it of the school's what they are doing outside of school anyway? If the school officials think their authority is so broad, they should not even be allowed around children.

  • by peragrin (659227) on Sunday February 21, 2010 @04:32PM (#31221556)

    The school denies Misuse, however they have photographic evidence of a child committing inappropriate behavior in the child's bedroom.

    Therefore the School has already committed a misuse of said camera's. The real question is why hasn't the school fired the people involved. there was no evidence of any laptops being stolen therefore the system shouldn't have been turned on to begin with. The only reason the camera's were turned on would be for misuse.

    So the school district is lying to cover themselves. They could get out of this much easier if they simply fired a couple of people and blamed those directly responsible, and their bosses for the policy.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by nomadic (141991)
      The district denies having activated the camera, so before anyone gets fired for just an accusation they should probably figure out if someone WAS lying. If the student took a picture of themselves say, smoking marijuana, brought the computer to school, and then while hooked up to the network the school saw it, that's a bit more of a grey area.
    • by Kingrames (858416)
      It's the Larry Craig style of protecting the children. Someone has to be the pedophile, so the school is calling dibs.
    • by hitmark (640295)

      is there any info about what kind of "inappropriate behavior" we are talking about? Could it be that said kid was trying to bypass some filter or other on the computer in question, this triggered an alert and the kid got photoed?

      or was it some activity where the computer happened to be running in the background, with the screen (and therefor the camera) facing the activity?

    • by slyfox (100931) on Sunday February 21, 2010 @07:03PM (#31223054)

      A student has been quoted as saying:

      "Frequently, the green lights next to our iSight webcams will turn on. The school district claims that this is just a glitch. We are all doubting this now."

      http://thelede.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/02/19/school-accused-of-using-webcam-to-photograph-student-at-home/ [nytimes.com]

      The lawsuit filed in court states:

      "[The student] was at home using a school issued laptop that was neither reported lost nor stolen when his image was captured by Defendants without his or his parents' permission and while he was at home."

      http://www.computerworld.com/s/article/print/9159778/Irate_parents_in_Pa._say_schools_use_peeping_tom_technology_ [computerworld.com]

      If this is true, sounds pretty damning to me.

  • 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"?

    maybe while the feature was introduced for all the right reasons (recovering lost/stolen laptops), they're admitting that students/parents should've been notified? i.e. they're admitting they made a mistake, but denying that they are pedophiles who used this "feature" to spy on acne-faced teenage boys masturbating to vogue magazine.

    • by QCompson (675963) on Sunday February 21, 2010 @04:57PM (#31221790)

      maybe while the feature was introduced for all the right reasons (recovering lost/stolen laptops), they're admitting that students/parents should've been notified? i.e. they're admitting they made a mistake, but denying that they are pedophiles who used this "feature" to spy on acne-faced teenage boys masturbating to vogue magazine.

      Now that's just ridiculous! I highly doubt teenage boys are masturbating to vogue magazine. Especially with the school-issued laptop computer (i.e. gateway to the universe of porn) right in front of them.

  • Riiight. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by nhytefall (1415959) on Sunday February 21, 2010 @04:34PM (#31221582) Journal
    Webcams hardly equal a lojack. Seems to me, this whole incident is nothing more than the reflection of our society's values of surveilance absent privacy, all in the name of security of course. As is said on The Simpsons, "Won't someone think of the children?!?"
  • 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"?

    Umm, because there was a national scandal regarding it and the school is desperately trying to cover its ass on all sides?

  • Sounds Half-Assed (Score:3, Insightful)

    by CheshireCatCO (185193) on Sunday February 21, 2010 @04:37PM (#31221618) Homepage

    If you wanted an anti-theft system, why not buy LoJack? It has to be at least as reliable as turning on the camera. Look: in order to catch the thief with a camera, you'd either have to recognize them or the location in which they're sitting. What are the odds of that working out for you? (Yes, I know it has happened before. But out of how many attempts?)

    I'll bet that the district could even have gotten a bulk, educational discount on such software. They might even have spent less than it would cost to pay a person to troll through the camera images over a few years, even.

  • by nahdude812 (88157) * on Sunday February 21, 2010 @04:38PM (#31221632) Homepage

    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.

    You're right. It's he-said, she-said. But since the school district does have controls in place to protect against abuses (only two people have access to the function, and this access is logged), and because I'd be very, very surprised if the district was foolish enough to act in the way that the suit alleges, I'm siding firmly on the side of "someone needs to provide some proof before I condemn anyone" - something the sensationalist media seems to be trying very hard doesn't happen.

    Now this may be what it was intended for, but it seems that someone didn't get the memo - or so the plaintiffs allege. ...why does the school say it won't start using the snooping feature again without "express written notification to all students and families"? I don't think it indicates anything at all that the district will more clearly communicate the existence and usage patterns of the software before they activate it again. The district has successfully used the software to recover 18 of 42 lost laptops, so if anything it seems like they might need even stronger software than this (though this is still $18,000 worth of taxpayer money the software has saved). Parents and students were surprised to know of its existence, and the district feels in retrospect that whatever communication was made in this regard was insufficient. That sounds like a reasonable action to me.

    I still find it far more plausible that the student took a photo himself and sent it to his buddies, than that one of two people with access to the system abused it, then exposed their abuse to a principal (who is not one of the two with access), who decided instead of doing something about the abuse, to then further abuse it themselves, and expose the abuse to the student and the student's parents. Sorry, one kid being kinda stupid is far more likely than two adults being very stupid.

    • by Shadow of Eternity (795165) on Sunday February 21, 2010 @04:55PM (#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 tftp (111690) on Sunday February 21, 2010 @05:04PM (#31221842) Homepage

      The district has successfully used the software to recover 18 of 42 lost laptops, so if anything it seems like they might need even stronger software than this (though this is still $18,000 worth of taxpayer money the software has saved)

      Each $1,000 laptop is insured by parents, with $55/yr premium and $100 deductible. 2,800 laptops netted $154K, enough to fully replace 154 laptops every year. But they lost only 42, and over more than a year. So the school should just remove all the security software and let the insurance deal with it.

      I still find it far more plausible that the student took a photo himself and sent it to his buddies

      Then you need to explain how the remote webcam activation thing was claimed, and was true (at least to the capability of doing it.) Clairvoyance is not the answer :-)

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Bman21212 (1067680)

      This is not simply sensationalism. There are broad reaching consequences of having an undisclosed program that can take pictures remotely. The main problem is undisclosed.

      And why are you so trusting of authority? Yes people don't normally do intentional things to harm themselves, and this gets better as they age and get more mature. But many people are not fluent in technology. They don't know the problems that arise.
      I am not surprised that technology got abused by those in power. Come on, it's slashdo

  • Telling a little bit of the truth every day is still lying. They should just get it out in the open now and let the chips fall where they may.
    • They need to cop a plea deal is what they need to do.

      They might spin it as good intentions, but they're going to get nailed to the wall.

  • by anorlunda (311253) on Sunday February 21, 2010 @04:46PM (#31221700) Homepage

    The news reports say that the cameras were activated in this case plus 42 other cases. If the school is telling the truth they should have documentary evidence of claims of theft or loss for all 43 cases.

    If they can document all 43 cases, they're still in hot water. If they can't then they're caught in yet another lie.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Volante3192 (953645)

      What stops there from being, say, 86 actual cases, but they only speak out about 43...hence pick the most or least damning incidents, whichever spins things the best way?

  • by ae1294 (1547521) on Sunday February 21, 2010 @04:46PM (#31221704) Journal

    I'm so sorry but we need to treat you and your cohorts just like we treat everyone else who is alleged, on television, of being guilty of a crime which means we will convict you, throw you in jail and make sure the other inmates know what you did...

    It's only fair, so be sure to enjoy your daily beatings and o, the rapes.

  • Translation (Score:5, Insightful)

    by legio_noctis (1411089) on Sunday February 21, 2010 @04:47PM (#31221706)

    A few days ago, most of us were still waiting to see if this story was in fact exaggerated and/or untrue: what about the school's side of the story?

    But it appears that the initial impressions were correct: the school is in fact just scrabbling around for excuses ("It was a security feature, promise!"). This suggests that there was in fact no good reason or alternate story.

    Which is good, because I can go and get properly angry now.

  • by golodh (893453) on Sunday February 21, 2010 @04:49PM (#31221728)
    I have some suggestions for this school on how to best focus its surveillance efforts.

    Following the logic of their stated reasons for using the on-board camera to take a peek at student's private lives, I respectfully submit that the individuals which are most at risk are therefore those most in need of the kind of protective surveillance this school offers. Right? Now it is common knowledge that attractive females are, more than most other groups, at risk. Both in school and outside.

    It therefore follows, with an elegant inevitability, that surveillance should focus on the 5% most attractive females of the school. We are then talking about continuous surveillance of course.

    I recommend enhancing security by also enabling the laptops' microphone. Besides, are those laptop cameras any good for taking infra-red pictures?

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by ae1294 (1547521)

      I recommend enhancing security by also enabling the laptops' microphone. Besides, are those laptop cameras any good for taking infra-red pictures?

      My distinguished colleague is right. We must protect our barely illegal females first and foremost. Thus I submit that each laptop must remain on at all times and that said students be required to respond to chat requests from members of this board to insure that they are not being abused or are engaging in illegal activities off camera. If they have nothing to hide then they have nothing to fear. Except us... o and our friends.... and well I guess friends of friends... O and that weird guy, Dave in IT, you

  • Better link (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward

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

  • by Dun Malg (230075)
    "We didn't do what everyone thinks we did, and we promise to never do it again!"
  • One possibility (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Phroggy (441) <slashdot3&phroggy,com> on Sunday February 21, 2010 @04:54PM (#31221764) Homepage

    There's one way the school could be telling the truth about this. They didn't say this explicitly, so it's not clear, but:

    The lawsuit alleges that the school accused the student of inappropriate behavior. That behavior could have been reporting his laptop as "stolen", then continuing to use it. The school maintains that they only use the webcams to take a still photo when a laptop has been reported stolen, to aid in recovering it. If the laptop was reported stolen, the school took a picture, they saw that the student who reported it was the one using it, and they confronted the student with this evidence, that would explain both the lawsuit and the school's position.

    Sort of odd that the school's response wouldn't explain that, if that is indeed what happened. But people tend to omit important details like that when there's a lawsuit pending, on advice of counsel...

    • If the above poster is correct that there are at least 42 instances of taking pictures of kids in their home, then I don't think they were all reported stolen.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    You are only hearing one side of the story here. The side the family wants to push to get a pay day from the school district.

    What if the student lied and said the laptop was stolen? The school district hasn't said anything publicly about this because of a lawsuit. Could you blame them?

    Lets pretend there was a world where the student or family reported the laptop as stolen. The school activates antitheft software to recover the taxpayers property. They find that the student and family still have the lapt

    • Well, what should be in place is if the laptop goes off campus, the family needs to pay a security deposit in advance.

  • Keep it simple (Score:3, Insightful)

    by onyxruby (118189) <onyxruby@nosPam.comcast.net> on Sunday February 21, 2010 @05:01PM (#31221816)

    If they started using the cameras to randomly take pictures of students than the school is looking at a well deserved lawsuit. Without question this is a violation of any number of laws. If the web cam pictures were taken in response to a lost or stolen laptop, than this entire thing has been much ado about nothing and the lawsuit is without merit. The only question of note on this is if the web-cams were activated for tracking anything other than lost or stolen laptops. If this kid was incidentally caught because he stole the laptop and was captured when they used the webcam to track the laptop than it changes the entire story.

    Certainly people have occasionally tracked down their stolen laptop, iphone or whatnot by remotely activating the cameras before. Such stories have run on Slashdot before and the consensus has always been along the lines of /hoot!/ The fact that the tracking is done by a third party shouldn't change the view that it's ok try to recover your lost or stolen property. This is a very different issue than routine monitoring software that monitors the usage of the laptops. That kind of software is used by employers and schools on a daily basis, and I've seen some people mix up the two issues when they are unrelated.

  • Why would you need to turn on the spy software unless you were told the machine was stolen? They're using it to preemptively find out if the student looks like s/he might steal it? The thing is obviously a trojan horse, and it's obviously time for a special emergency school board election.
  • and we promise not to ever do it again.

  • They're like the little kid with chocolate smeared all over his face and shirt claiming he didn't eat the candy bar. Forgivable for a little kid, but have these supposed responsible adults seen NO intellectual growth since age 3? It's just insulting that they even attempt such a lame lie. Are these the same adults who are supposed to be respected when they tell teens to "just own up to your mistakes and take your punishment like an adult"?

    They themselves presented the evidence against them in the form of

  • All webcams should have masking tape over them, uncover when expressly needed and re-cover when done. Mics too.

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