Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Education GNU is Not Unix Portables Privacy News Your Rights Online

PA Laptop Spying Inspires FSF Crowdsourcing Effort 135

Posted by timothy
from the inspiration-comes-from-many-places dept.
holmesfsf writes "Creeped out by the Lower Merion School District's remote monitoring of students? Check out the Free Software Foundation's response to the laptop spying scandal and help build a wiki listing of school districts that provide students with laptops, so that the FSF can campaign against mandatory, proprietary laptops."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

PA Laptop Spying Inspires FSF Crowdsourcing Effort

Comments Filter:
  • Great idea (Score:5, Insightful)

    by H4x0r Jim Duggan (757476) on Saturday March 13, 2010 @09:46AM (#31463546) Homepage Journal

    Hopefully this situation will be a stepping stone to help the public understand the role that computers play in our personal lives.

    I switched to GNU/Linux in 1998 because lights on my external modem flickered each time I used RealPlayer to play files that were on my own computer.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 13, 2010 @10:09AM (#31463648)

    All schools should be private and accountable to their customers (i.e. parents / guardians). Parents can even hire private services to spy on their kids via cameras and other means, in their own home or not. But this is a case of "tragedy of the commons" - everyone gets the same crummy overpriced tyrannical one-size-fits-all solution, whether you like it or not. Every time the government screws up, the socialists seize the opportunity to reward the government with more power and funding (their logic, not mine), and the "F"SF is no exception.

    They already use government force as much as proprietary software does (if not more so, because proprietary software could exist without government through explicit privately-enforceable contracts, while copyleft could not), but they want more - a monopoly, government funding of socialist software, and then total government control of everything that has a microchip!

    Real freedom comes from balance of power and free market competition, not blind faith in an all-powerful "authority"!

  • Excuse me? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by berryjw (1071694) on Saturday March 13, 2010 @10:23AM (#31463744)
    For all those with a knee-jerk reaction to this, consider it from this perspective: You've just spent millions of dollars, building a network infrastructure, programming servers and switches and routers, creating images and an environment to handle all of this, all for a very specific task. You're saying there's *nothing wrong* with me using what you've built, however I want to, and you've no right to watch how I use it? If so, I'm coming to your place, no reason for me to ever spend a dime on tech! Hmm, does this logic apply to your car? Or bank account???
  • Governance (Score:4, Insightful)

    by DaveGod (703167) on Saturday March 13, 2010 @10:28AM (#31463768)

    The issue isn't proprietary laptops nor the student's control over them. It's bad governance. A bad decision arising from good intentions simply not thought out nor with proper controls and disclosure in place.

    With good governance they never should have made a decision that would so obviously bring the school into such disrepute. With proper controls they could demonstrate how the function could not be abused, or at a minimum that abuse would be detected. With proper disclosure the school kids and their parents could have objected and this farce never would have happened even with the school having made the bad decision. With proper disclosure there is an entirely different scope for alarm - spying on kids with their knowledge is appalling but without them knowing, that's really something.

    Using non-proprietary laptops merely adds one avenue for detection of the wrongdoing here. It's trivial compared to the other causes of the failure that need to be rectified, starting with the removal of the entire board responsible for the decision because of their utterly incompetent governance.

  • Re:Meh. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by PopeRatzo (965947) * on Saturday March 13, 2010 @10:33AM (#31463798) Homepage Journal

    If it doesn't belong to you, you have no rights to do anything with it, without the owners permission.

    Some laws just beg to be broken.

    God bless this kid for being ready to perpetrate crimes against the state at such an early age.

    When he figures out that the real threat comes from corporate power over our lives, he'll be formidable. We need more 16 year-olds like this.

  • by PopeRatzo (965947) * on Saturday March 13, 2010 @10:35AM (#31463824) Homepage Journal

    Free software isn't inherently more trustworthy, it simply moves the trust relationship around.

    "Moving the trust around" is hardly as trivial as you make it sound.

    In fact, it's the way truly free societies are supposed to work. You could sum up the philosophy of the US Constitution with the words "Move the Trust Around".

  • Opportunism (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Ralish (775196) <ralish&gmail,com> on Saturday March 13, 2010 @10:44AM (#31463860)

    Is it just me, or does this just reek of opportunism? What the school in question did was appalling, but it has nothing to do with the open-source vs. closed-source debate, or the proprietary vs. open debate, it's just raw and basic ethics. This is about people's basic right to privacy, as well as the ethical conduct of system administrators. Windows doesn't stop you installing open-source software, and Linux doesn't stop you installing proprietary software. Neither operating system will stop a system administrator from installing nasty software.

    Presumably the FSF would feel a lot better about this if the students were being spied on from laptops running Linux with open-source spying software? We could mask the presence with an open-source rootkit, and upload the data to a FreeBSD server running Apache and a MySQL database. Then this would be just fine. Groups that hijack legitimate issues in order to advance their own agenda are sickening. Jack Thompson likes to do this to advocate video game restrictions, pro & anti gun control groups do this whenever the latest gun violence story hits the news, and now the FSF joins in. I knew they'd been progressively losing sanity over the years, but I thought even this was beneath them.

  • Re:Excuse me? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by lena_10326 (1100441) on Saturday March 13, 2010 @10:44AM (#31463862) Homepage
    Spending millions of dollars and loaning out hardware doesn't give school officials the right to remotely activate and control the laptop webcam and spy on children in their own bedrooms--potentially while undressing. People are pissed not due to knee jerk reaction, but because what the school did was fucking creepy.
  • by OnlineAlias (828288) on Saturday March 13, 2010 @10:47AM (#31463874)

    Why yes, yes it is. However, the crowed usually gets something of value too, a la Google. You get your search results, they get to target advertising and gather statistics on you.

  • by pla (258480) on Saturday March 13, 2010 @11:04AM (#31463960) Journal
    At some point, you have to take someone's word that the software you are loading on your computer is "trustworthy", unless you're going to write it all yourself.

    Yes and no.

    Yes, I don't personally audit every line of code I run on my computers, so in that sense I "trust" the FOSS community to act as a pretty damned effective first-line defense against most of the common crap commercial vendors try to pull (whether Sony rootkits or WGA or Energizer's recent scandal).

    But also "No", in that if I notice some suspicious activity in a program I use, I can have the relevant source open in front of me five minutes later to see why it did what it did - Did it just get confused by a DNS timeout? Did it legitimately (it not necessarily with my permission) try to update itself to handle my request? Did it try to report everything I've done in the past 24 hours to a remote server in China under the guise of a "bug report"? With commercial software, I can at best block its action at the firewall and see what breaks; With FOSS, I can know what it did and act accordingly.


    Free software isn't inherently more trustworthy, it simply moves the trust relationship around.

    Yep, it does. And I'll trust a million strangers with no commercial interest in my life over a single CEO who sees me as a "resource" any day of the week, thankyouverymuch. And as a side-bonus, it also places more of that burden of trust right back on my shoulders. And while I may not always act in my own best interest, I do unwaveringly trust myself.
  • by perotbot (632237) on Saturday March 13, 2010 @11:20AM (#31464046) Journal
    Facts: 1. the school told students who did not pay the laptop fee to not remove the laptops from school 2. the kid's parents did not pay the fee 3. kide removed laptop 4. school staff randomly inventoried laptops 5. school staff discovered laptop missing 6. staff activated anti theft program... Student broke rules and got busted, doesn't matter if it was a laptop or getting caught smoking on school surveilance web cam. how is this any different than someone using MoblieMe to find their missing iphones??
  • by westlake (615356) on Saturday March 13, 2010 @11:38AM (#31464150)

    The problem is relatively easy to fix, though. All students should know how to do this, and I teach as many how to as I can. Fuck the "monitoring" they do, this isn't China.

    Did you to a lawyer about the risks you and the students are taking?

    Their parents and guardians?

    The ones who will be in no very forgiving mood when their kids miss graduation?

    Did you talk to your wife?

    Ever hear the phrase "Jail Bait?"

    Mucking around with minors and the law is dangerous:

    "Twenty-seven year old geek arrested as ringleader in local high school kiddie porn bust."

    The school locks down its system to avoid even the remote possibility of being tainted by stories like this.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 13, 2010 @12:53PM (#31464634)

    Facts: ...

    Student broke rules and got busted, doesn't matter if it was a laptop or getting caught smoking on school surveilance web cam.

    how is this any different than someone using MoblieMe to find their missing iphones??

    It's different because of the potential to take pictures of a child while he/she was dressing 'exposes' the picture taker to child pornography laws, especially when the kids did not know about the camera. It only takes a SINGLE picture to put the person taking the picture at risk for years of prison time.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 13, 2010 @01:32PM (#31464860)

    It's different for one very important reason: The parents and children were never informed of the presence of this capability, and never had an opportunity to consent to it. Furthermore, it's not clear if it would be legal even with informed consent.

    Correcting your analogy of "getting caught smoking on the school surveillance cam", you could say that the school had extended its surveillance cam into every student's home. Possibly legal? I don't know, but certainly not without informing those parents/children that this is possible.

  • Re:Opportunism (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Skapare (16644) on Saturday March 13, 2010 @01:47PM (#31464974) Homepage

    This event opened our eyes to the POTENTIAL for abuse by a group of people that typically is known for a greater propensity to be abusive.

    And there are issues about even the program itself. For example, requiring kids to use that computer and not the one that they already have at home, which for some can be a space issue (where do I put it). It also imposes property care obligations on people that don't necessarily need to have it. In some cases students cannot leave their school provided laptops at school in the lockers and are required to take them home every day, which may be an environment with a greater chance of being stolen (and then the student be blamed for not taking proper care).

    It would just be simpler if the schools would let the program be optional, though opt-in at any time. Let kids use their own computers when and where they like (but the school is not liable for problems with the kids own computers). Accept all known formats for assignment turn-in. Ignorance of teachers (to deal with Open Office formats, which they can do for free on any computer, so money is not an excuse) is no excuse.

    And tell the schools to quit whining about budgets unless they are using the lowest cost solutions for their computers.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 13, 2010 @01:49PM (#31464998)

    You need to read the constitution. The school is the government and monitored him in his home without a warrant.

  • by Fnord666 (889225) on Saturday March 13, 2010 @09:32PM (#31468716) Journal

    Facts: 1. the school told students who did not pay the laptop fee to not remove the laptops from school 2. the kid's parents did not pay the fee 3. kide removed laptop 4. school staff randomly inventoried laptops 5. school staff discovered laptop missing 6. staff activated anti theft program.

    Citation needed please. This is the first I have heard of items 2,4,5 and 6.

I don't want to achieve immortality through my work. I want to achieve immortality through not dying. -- Woody Allen

Working...