Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Education Portables Privacy

Lower Merion School District Update 367

Posted by kdawson
from the someone-to-watch-over-me dept.
Mike_EE_U_of_I and jargon82 were among a number of readers who sent an update on the Lower Merion School District webcam spying case (see Related Stories for our discussions of the affair over the last couple of months). The school had originally stated that capturing laptop photos in students' homes had only happened 42 times. It turns out what they meant was that there were 42 instances when they began intensive surveillance on the suspected stolen computers. This consisted of (among other things) transmitting a picture from the laptop's webcam every 15 minutes. This may have gone on for weeks. In total, it appears that there were thousands of photos. One of the key administrators involved has been answering all questions about the program by invoking the Fifth Amendment.
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Lower Merion School District Update

Comments Filter:
  • Surprise, Surprise (Score:5, Insightful)

    by WrongSizeGlass (838941) on Friday April 16, 2010 @12:54PM (#31873588)
    Pics of the kid sleeping and "half dressed". Who knows what else they have of other kids. They are in deeeeeeep guano.
    • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Friday April 16, 2010 @01:04PM (#31873728) Journal
      "No, no, your honor! It isn't what it sounds like! The images are called naughty_underage_schoolgirls0001.jpg through naughty_underage_schoolgirls0987.jpg because they are schoolgirls we suspected of stealing laptops, which is naughty, and we didn't want them to be charged as adults, because they are just students still... You have to believe me!!!"
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by poena.dare (306891)

      "Deep" doesn't even begin to cover it. Read the Philly articles if you haven't. Massive Collective Stupidity by Adults that Should have Known Better!

      Jon Stewart's got at least a weeks worth of material to joke about here.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      This photo, allegedly taken surreptitiously by the Lower Merion School District through a laptop web camera, shows Blake Robbins sleeping at home at 5 p.m. on Oct 26.

      The real question is, WTF was this kid doing sleeping at 5 pm instead of doing his homework? The kid doesn't even bother to take off his normal school day clothes when sleeping, which could mean wrinkles.

      It's obvious that this Web 2.0 technology has utility. When parents are too busy to keep an eye on their kids, at least we know the school district will. If these school kids have nothing to hide, then they have nothing to worry about. It's just like going to the doctor; it's for their own good. An ounce of

    • by 0100010001010011 (652467) on Friday April 16, 2010 @01:41PM (#31874214)

      You mean Giggity*.

      *Seniors over the age of 18 only.

  • by AnonymousClown (1788472) on Friday April 16, 2010 @12:55PM (#31873590)
    I'm sure they must've caught some of the kids masturbating.
  • Lightbulb? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MozeeToby (1163751) on Friday April 16, 2010 @12:57PM (#31873620)

    One of the key administrators involved has been answering all questions about the program by invoking the Fifth Amendment.

    No doubt he was instructed by his lawyer to do so. At least this means that the 'Oh Shit' lightbulb has finally gone off in someones head, someone finally is realizing that this could very easily end up with jail time and a spot on the sex offenders registry.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by noodler (724788)

      He is a she...

    • RTFA, you insensitive clod! The administrator who invoked the Fifth was a woman. Jumping to those sexist assumptions will end with all men getting a bad name.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by poetmatt (793785)

      they still can anyway.

      I believe there are ways you can be asked to answer questions anyway, right? Such as when the evidence is presented? Or is that when they can put you in for contempt of court?

      I'm not a lawyer so maybe someone else can help clarify, but I thought fifth amendment has situations where you can't simply invoke it?

      • Re:Lightbulb? (Score:5, Informative)

        by digitalunity (19107) <.moc.oohay. .ta. .ytinulatigid.> on Friday April 16, 2010 @03:25PM (#31875742) Homepage

        I'll undo about 10 points of moderation to comment here.

        No. You're free to keep your mouth shut when being interrogated by police or in a courtroom if that information may incriminate you in any crime.

        You can still be compelled to testify about another person, under threat of contempt and jail. A good example would be you being ordered by a judge to testify regarding a crime you're aware of, but did not participate in. If you did participate in it though, you could still invoke the 5th amendment and simply tell the judge you believe your testimony may be incriminating.

        The right to not incriminate yourself is nearly universal, and for good reason. The original intent was not to allow guilty people to hide behind a legal shield, but to prevent innocent people from being forced to testify against themselves.

        In a police state, without the 5th amendment, the police can very easily coerce confessions for crimes people didn't commit. This is one reason why even sometimes a confession isn't an open & shut case. Under some circumstances, the confession is tossed out due to 5th amendment rights. In some cases, something as simple as the interrogator sitting between the door and the suspect has been used, because such can be interpreted as coercion of someone who is otherwise free to leave at any time.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by ultranova (717540)

          In a police state, without the 5th amendment, the police can very easily coerce confessions for crimes people didn't commit.

          Whereas, with the 5th amendment, that's the District Attorney's job, and the process is called "plea bargain". Huge improvement.

    • Re:Lightbulb? (Score:4, Informative)

      by Attila Dimedici (1036002) on Friday April 16, 2010 @02:43PM (#31875136)
      The summary is badly misworded (whether by mistake or intentionally is left to your judgement). The article that is linked to says that she answered questions at her deposition by pleading the Fifth ammendment. That means that when she was questioned by the plaintiff's attorney under oath she pled the Fifth. Which is always the best decision. If you are ever questioned under oath by an attorney who is out to get you, plead the Fifth or you are likely to be charged with perjury for answering a question incorrectly because you forgot (or someone else remembers the situation differently. Look what happened to "Scooter" Libby).
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by minion (162631)

      One of the key administrators involved has been answering all questions about the program by invoking the Fifth Amendment.

      No doubt he was instructed by his lawyer to do so. At least this means that the 'Oh Shit' lightbulb has finally gone off in someones head, someone finally is realizing that this could very easily end up with jail time and a spot on the sex offenders registry.

      Actually, I hope they all end up on the sex offenders registry, and get the book thrown at them... Not because they are sex offenders per say (I doubt their intention was to see naked kids), but they should have thought through the potential issues with photographing the viewer of the laptop screen. I hope the judgment is harsh for two reasons:

      1) Its a gross violation of privacy, the 4th Amendment, and basically human decency.
      2) Things that get you on the sex offenders list needs to be changed - its too ea

  • by CheshireCatCO (185193) on Friday April 16, 2010 @12:58PM (#31873640) Homepage

    One of the key administrators involved has been answering all questions about the program by invoking the Fifth Amendment.

    Which, to be fair, is entirely his or her right. Trying to infer guilt from this (tempting though it may be) violates what most of us stand for. Tossing that statement in at the end of the summary seems to be an attempt to imply guilt, though.

    (Which isn't to say that I don't think this program was stupid and criminal.)

    • by HarrySquatter (1698416) on Friday April 16, 2010 @01:00PM (#31873660)

      Where have you been lately? If you're accused of a crime it clearly means you're already guilty. How dare you go against the mob mentality!

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by AndersOSU (873247)

        Lately?

        It's always been that way. The whole innocent until proven guilty concept is actually quite radical - and even then it only applies to the governments assumptions - private citizens are free to assume whatever they want.

    • I thought only "natural people" could invoke the fifth amendment... can a school do it? SHE isn't the person on trial, the school is... right?
      • I thought only "natural people" could invoke the fifth amendment... can a school do it? SHE isn't the person on trial, the school is... right?

        Regardless of who or what is being investigated, any individual can invoke the 5th unless they have been granted immunity from prosecution. And just because you work for an organization or company does not mean you won't be prosecuted for crimes you commit on the job. Generally, they prosecute you then the victims go after the organization in civil court for not properly supervising you or for encouraging you to do it.

        • Regardless of who or what is being investigated, any individual can invoke the 5th unless they have been granted immunity from prosecution.

          Pretty sure you can always invoke the 5th, period. There may be no reason to do so if you have immunity from prosecution, but you can still do it (particularly if there are other things you don't have immunity for).

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by Aldenissin (976329)

            And I am pretty sure the moment that you do, you will likely lose immunity according to terms of said immunity agreement. So, they just have to leave the best for last, and then everything you said beforehand can now be used against you, since immunity is now null and void. A good attorney can negotiate what you can't be questioned on as a condition of your testimony in exchange for immunity.

      • by zero_out (1705074)
        The school is the primary defendant in this civil case, but that doesn't preclude the possibility of criminal cases stemming from this. If she did something that might be (borderline) criminal, then she would want to shut up about it, rather than risk criminal prosecution.
        • No just being at the school (or in reality being questioned by police) she should invoke the 5th so that they can't use any information even remotly linking her with the ability to commit a crime.

          Speak through your lawyer people.
        • Possessing images of naked children is WAY beyond borderline criminal.

      • by mooingyak (720677) on Friday April 16, 2010 @01:15PM (#31873856)

        Anyone can invoke the 5th amendment if they believe that answering the question will incriminate them. It doesn't matter if they are on trial or not. If you were accused of murder, and I saw you do it while I was across the street robbing a convenience store, I might choose to invoke the 5th rather than explain what I was doing while I saw you commit your act.

    • by twidarkling (1537077) on Friday April 16, 2010 @01:06PM (#31873760)

      I don't think it's an attempt to imply guilt, but more show the cracks in the formerly unified stance of the board et al. Fifth Amendment invocation is different than "no comment," and it shows that some members are starting to think of themselves, rather than the message.

      • I don't think it's an attempt to imply guilt, but more show the cracks in the formerly unified stance of the board et al. Fifth Amendment invocation is different than "no comment," and it shows that some members are starting to think of themselves, rather than the message.

        IANAL but I'm pretty sure "no comment" won't fly in a deposition. If you don't want to answer the questions the Fifth is the only method.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by QuantumRiff (120817)

      I think it was put in there, because the students weren't given the opportunity to excercise that right (nor the 4th amendment). How nice of that administrator to hide behind the very document they tried to shred to pieces.

    • by rhizome (115711)

      Trying to infer guilt from this (tempting though it may be) violates what most of us stand for.

      There are real differences between civil and criminal juries. In civil suits, a jury is not very likely to give a person who invokes the fifth the benefit of the doubt, so what is happening here is that she's saving her own skin while possibly undercutting the school's defense. As far as a jury would be concerned, that is.

      At the end of the day, though, civil suits are decided on a preponderance of evidence rather

    • Trying to infer guilt from this (tempting though it may be) violates what most of us stand for.

      I disagree. You obviously can't convict someone based on their invocation of the 5th, but you can darn well form an opinion of that person and their actions.

  • by Chas (5144) on Friday April 16, 2010 @12:59PM (#31873650) Homepage Journal

    One of the key administrators involved has been answering all questions about the program by invoking the Fifth Amendment.

    Hope this asshat understands that pleading the Fifth isn't going to prevent a judge or jury from finding/ruling against him and punishing him.

    "If I don't say anything I'm safe." doesn't work in the real world when you've already been caught.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by PPH (736903)

      But what it does is protect her superiors. Do you really think that this was undertaken solely on the initiative of one admin?

      She'll plead the Fifth, the prosecution will figure that there are bigger fish to be had and offer her immunity or a reduced sentence in return for testimony that will incriminate the others.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Burning1 (204959)

      Hope this asshat understands that pleading the Fifth isn't going to prevent a judge or jury from finding/ruling against him and punishing him.

      "If I don't say anything I'm safe." doesn't work in the real world when you've already been caught.

      It does prevent you from getting yourself deeper into shit, however.

  • The guy pleads the fifth. No problem. Then grant him immunity from prosecution and take that off the table. Then let the dozens of civil suits eat him alive.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Sir_Lewk (967686)

      She

      And that is a terrible idea. These people need to pay for what they have done. Prison time and sex offender registration, the whole 9 yards.

      Pleading the fifth isn't going to do shit to protect them if the prosecutors have documented evidence showing what they have done, which it seems they have.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by MrOctogon (865301)
        Exactly. Pleading the fifth does not get you off the hook. It just means they need real evidence to continue.
      • by Fished (574624) <amphigoryNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Friday April 16, 2010 @01:59PM (#31874504)
        In our society, men are terrified of being accused of sexual predation, and we steer clear of it. We know where the lines are, and we know we can be accused at any time. Maybe this administrator just wasn't as aware because, after all, she's a she and nobody would ever think that she would use the camera for illicit purposes! Seriously, the reason why that stereotype is there is because, on a whole, men tend to be more interested in pornographic images. Maybe part of the problem here is that, in the female dominated world of education, no man ever saw this policy and said, "uh, ladies... you do realize what people could use these cameras for, right?"
    • The guy pleads the fifth. No problem. Then grant him immunity from prosecution and take that off the table. Then let the dozens of civil suits eat him alive.

      RTFAs. The case in question is a civil suit. I don't see any mention of criminal charges, but I do see mention of state legislation being introduced that would close the legal loophole the school district used.

  • by Cheviot (248921) on Friday April 16, 2010 @01:10PM (#31873800)

    I have never understood how school districts think.

    On one hand they're terrified of getting sued. They have huge lists of things, even common, ordinary actions, that are not allowed to prevent even the slightest chance of getting sued.

    Then, on the other hand, they take actions that random people on the street realize will cause a lawsuit. Strip searching students for searching for asprin, cancelling proms when gay students wish to attend, secretly spying on students with webcams. What the hell are they thinking?

    • by Bureaucromancer (1303477) on Friday April 16, 2010 @01:20PM (#31873934)
      Without speculating on the why or the how of the thing, school districts are chalk full of a particular kind of authoritarian and bureaucratic mindset that does this stuff without consideration of much of anything but immediate control of whatever problem they have at the moment (and more to the point think of that immediate exercise of authority being crucial - they just don't particularly care about the implications even if they are pointed out). The anti lawsuit stuff comes from the poor lawyers who keep having to sort out the messes made; in other words it's two completely separate groups setting those policies and getting the boards sued. Bear in mind I'm not saying all educators do this, any more than all cops are corrupt, but every school, like every police force, has at least one, and that one makes a hell of a mess for everyone.
    • by MrCawfee (13910)

      It's actually fairly simple.

      They don't want pissed off parents coming into the office.

      Strip searching children: it's okay, they are preventing our children from using dangerous drugs, you know the things we should be preventing.

      Canceling Proms: it's okay, we hate the gays, and we don't want our children exposed to the way the world really is because it doesn't fit in our world view.

      Spying on children: AHHHHHHHHhhhhhhhhhhHHHHHHHhhhh you are watching my thieving child when they are home!?!

      Parents want the sch

    • But they can't help a student out of a tree for safety concerns!

      At what point did our Education Society lose all common sense?

      It seems like those who work in education aren't the smartest.

      I think its because we've built this conception of "those who can't do, teach". A society where being a teacher isn't glorious, when it should be. Just make it harder to become a teacher and pay them more... Like a doctor or a Lawyer.

    • In the US, Schools are tasked with the impossible job of trying to please parents, who are also voters, and who are also incredibly rude and stupid about what they think is right for their kids. And what happens is that if you DON'T take action, then you get sued anyway!

      Drugs? Zero tolerance because some parents and all politicians have zero tolerance, even for aspirin! Someone wrote the rule that way because some crazy person pushed it.

      Gays at the prom? Because there is no equal protection under the law for gays, and too many people in american society still view gay relationships as evil. Allowing gays in the right conservative school district will get you just as sued.

      Computer survellience? Well for this one there simply is no excuse. Someone obviously didn't do their homework and thought it was a good idea and forgot to check where the legal line crossed. This example is not like the others because the first two are more about social values in those areas and this is clearly a breach in well established law.

      And don't forget these people are voted into office, and they are of the people and by the people. They are politicians as well, and if someone wants them to do something or risk being voted out, well this is how it works when the law isn't more clearly spelled out.

      Then again, sometimes parents have an attack of sanity, like the Dover, PA case where the old school board tried to implement intelligent design, and they were voted out en masse the next election and the curriculum was scrapped.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        I agree with much of what you said, and the overall feeling - I prefer common sense instead of corner case laws.

        Gays at the prom? Because there is no equal protection under the law for gays, and too many people in american society still view gay relationships as evil. Allowing gays in the right conservative school district will get you just as sued.

        I just wanted to point out many states (as well as Canada) have outlawed discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity entirely and the US recently recently passed ENDA.

        Civil Rights from Stanford Encyclopedia [stanford.edu]
        Employment Non-Discrimination Act [wikipedia.org]

    • by steelfood (895457)

      What the hell are they thinking?

      Thinking? Thinking? They aren't paid to think! They're paid to boss around students and teachers and convince parents that they're doing a good job.

      All kidding aside, they're not proactive, they're reactive. Which means that they'll do something and if it somehow results in a lawsuit, they'll ban it. Otherwise, they'll just keep doing it.

    • by vell0cet (1055494)
      "They have huge lists of things, even common, ordinary actions, that are not allowed to prevent even the slightest chance of getting sued."

      It's precisely because the some people working in these school districts are asshats that they have to huge lists of things they can't do. But conversely, these if these asshats don't see something on the list, it means they can do them.
    • by Eighty7 (1130057)
      It's almost like there's multiple people making independent decisions!
  • Did these laptops have rules stating that they were never permitted to leave the school grounds?

    If so, this may improve the school district's legal standing somewhat, since the students were not supposed to have the laptops in that situation.

    If the students WERE permitted to take the laptops home (other articles I have read implied they were), then under what criteria were these laptops suspected stolen? Unless a student reported a laptop as lost or stolen, or a student missed some sort of required invento

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      quote>Did these laptops have rules stating that they were never permitted to leave the school grounds?

      No. Kids were allowed and encouraged to take the laptops home, but they claim one of the students in question did not pay the insurance fee required, so that gave them permission to use it to spy on him. They refused to answer with regard to the other 41 instances whether those students had reported the laptop stolen or not paid the insurance fee in question.

      If the students WERE permitted to take the laptops home (other articles I have read implied they were), then under what criteria were these laptops suspected stolen?

      The short answer, they did not suspect they we

    • Re:Suspected stolen? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by nobodyman (90587) on Friday April 16, 2010 @02:02PM (#31874536) Homepage

      The students were, in fact, allowed to leave school grounds. And part of the problem here is that the criteria for them determining whether the laptop was "stolen" seemed really fragile.

      I can't find the article now, but one of the IT guys for the district was recorded in a presentation (where he was praising the program) that one of the laptop's owners connected to their neighbor's WiFi, rather than their own network (I'm assuming that students needed to register their router's mac address). Anyway, the software detected this as laptop theft, the school reported it stolen, and the police worked with the local ISP to get the address of the neighbor and searched the neighbors house .

      As more details about this story come forward, I am increasingly amazed that this program made it past the idea-stage. You'd think at least *one* person in the chain-of-command would have some common sense.

  • Some additional info (Score:3, Informative)

    by UnknowingFool (672806) on Friday April 16, 2010 @01:20PM (#31873928)

    So here's some more additional info [citypaper.net]. The family which sued failed to pay a $55 insurance policy on the laptop. Now, I'm not saying that the surveillance was justified only that the missed payments may have triggered suspicions whether the laptop had been stolen. Of course, once the school determined that the laptop wasn't stolen, all surveillance should have stopped.

    • by Kagato (116051)

      It seems that the pictures should have been held in escrow until it was determined to be stolen in the first place. Hindsight is always 20/20.

  • by phooka.de (302970) on Friday April 16, 2010 @01:20PM (#31873942)

    just watch this:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6wXkI4t7nuc [youtube.com]
    Absolutely must see.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by dkleinsc (563838)

      Who the heck modded this off-topic? The summary brought up taking the Fifth, and that film is absolutely 100% apropos.

      Basically, if you don't take the Fifth, you're an idiot.

  • Okay, Macbooks... webcam spying...

    Does the surveillance software have the ability to take images without turning on the webcam LED? I mean we always assume those are hardware activated and can't be bypassed, I mean only an IDIOT would leave the LEDs controlled by the driver... right?

    Also, if indeed there are laptops out there with software controlled LEDs, is anyone keeping a list of the spy-happy laptops out there?

  • by Locke2005 (849178) on Friday April 16, 2010 @01:58PM (#31874480)
    Shouldn't school officials deal with problems by the least intrusive means possible? Once the laptop surveillance was enabled, the first few pictures would have established the laptop's location. But they continued to take 400 snapshots over the course of 2 weeks! The only rational explanation for the continued surveillance is pure voyeurism -- and I expect that is what the student's lawyer will argue in court.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by natehoy (1608657)

      The least intrusive means would have been to call the student's parents and ask if he had the laptop with him. Yes? OK, please pay the insurance fee before he takes it home again, thanks. Issue resolved.

  • by BitterOak (537666) on Friday April 16, 2010 @04:23PM (#31876582)

    Back when this story first broke, I was not at all convinced that school officials were spying on kids. One student had been suspended for alleged inappropriate activity captured by the camera and everyone immediately assumed it was the result of this surveillance system. The only statement the school made on the issue was that the photo had been taken by the student and left on the hard drive of the laptop when he returned it. To me, that seemed a lot more plausible, if less juicy. (After all, who wasn't excited by the thought of photos of horny high school kids in their bedrooms, and equally excited by the thought of school officials getting raked over the coals.)

    I saw this story [philly.com] earlier today and now I'm more convinced than ever the whole thing is BS. Look carefully at the photograph (provided by the parents, I might add.) Who goes to sleep with their laptop turned on and the camera pointed right at their face, so that it's perfectly centered in the frame and just well lit enough to show it clearly? If you've ever seen real photographs taken by peeping toms with hidden cameras, they're always grainy and show subjects in unflattering lighting conditions. This picture is just to perfect to be real.

    Generally speaking, when there's a lawsuit going on and one side says nothing to the press, citing that it would be imprudent to do so during proceedings, and the other site leaks all kinds of juicy stuff to the press, I tend to believe the party that shows discretion.

    As for the Fifth Amendment issue, as others have noted, it's standard practice when you're suspected of a crime to always invoke the 5th and say nothing before the trial. That's perfectly normal and doesn't mean anything at all.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by oasisbob (460665)

      I saw this story [philly.com] earlier today and now I'm more convinced than ever the whole thing is BS. Look carefully at the photograph (provided by the parents, I might add.) Who goes to sleep with their laptop turned on and the camera pointed right at their face, so that it's perfectly centered in the frame and just well lit enough to show it clearly? If you've ever seen real photographs taken by peeping toms with hidden cameras, they're always grainy and show subjects in unflattering lighting conditions

A consultant is a person who borrows your watch, tells you what time it is, pockets the watch, and sends you a bill for it.

Working...