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Lower Merion School's Report Says IT Dept. Did It, But Didn't Inhale 232

Posted by timothy
from the so-what's-a-few-snapshots-anyhow dept.
PSandusky writes "A report issued by the Lower Merion School District's chosen law firm blames the district's IT department for the laptop webcam spying scandal. In particular, the report mentions lax IT policies and record-keeping as major problems that enabled the spying. Despite thousands of e-mails and images to the contrary, the report also maintains that no proof exists that anyone in IT viewed images captured by the webcams."
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Lower Merion School's Report Says IT Dept. Did It, But Didn't Inhale

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  • Wow... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Em Emalb (452530) <ememalb@gm[ ].com ['ail' in gap]> on Thursday May 06, 2010 @03:50PM (#32116176) Homepage Journal

    I sure hope those "IT Dept" folks have emails archived indicating the request to do this.

    Otherwise...wow. I feel bad for them.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Jeng (926980)

      Not only the request to do it, but the request to stop it.

      I'm sure the school administrators requested for the access, but forgot to request for the access to be terminated once enough information was procured letting the pictures just pile up like emails in a discontinued email address.

    • Re:Wow... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by WrongSizeGlass (838941) on Thursday May 06, 2010 @03:55PM (#32116282)

      I sure hope those "IT Dept" folks have emails archived indicating the request to do this.

      Otherwise...wow. I feel bad for them.

      I don't feel bad for them at all. It is so clearly obvious to anyone with minimal common sense that this whole thing could go wrong in a variety of ways. If they didn't think there was anything wrong with what they were doing then they get what they deserve. If they didn't keep a paper trail to cover there asses then they've put themselves in a really bad position. Either way they should have seen some of this coming from day one.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Platinumrat (1166135)
        Paper trail or not, they're screwed. Problem is that the IT folk are still required to follow the laws of the land. In this case the law is no kiddie porn. I'm not in IT myself, but am an engineer and if management tells me to do something that is illegal, I am duty bound to to them so. Sometime management, hasn't thought it through and they realise the error, othertimes, well let's just say a quiet word to the legal dept, often sets them right. As professionals, the Law requires us to know what laws
    • Re:Wow... (Score:5, Informative)

      by fava (513118) on Thursday May 06, 2010 @03:58PM (#32116328)

      The report was written by the law firm that is defending the school district. Consequently it is attempting to spin everything in the most favourable light to the school district. Any attempt to pin the fault on rogue individuals in the IT department might just be an attempt to minimize liability.

      I simply don't trust the report.

      • Re:Wow... (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Zerth (26112) on Thursday May 06, 2010 @04:09PM (#32116474)

        Especially considering the email that said they thought it was like watching "a little LMSD soap opera," [rhymeswithright.mu.nu]. While the statement could have been taken out of context("testing this is cool, this is like 'a little LMSD soap opera'"), it kind of implies they looked at something.

        • Re:Wow... (Score:5, Insightful)

          by poetmatt (793785) on Thursday May 06, 2010 @04:20PM (#32116688) Journal

          it's kinda hard to say a kid might have done drugs and then later state you couldn't have possibly looked at the photos. It's contradictory for the defense. I'm guessing that Lower Marion doesn't want to accept that they are totally screwed.

          • by Altus (1034)

            especially since the kid claims to have been confronted with the photo.

      • by rickb928 (945187)

        Trust no one. Any school official that had access can be assumed to have used that access. Ditto for staff. We know a principal did.

        Sadly, I hope at least a few had a shred of integrity left and didn't participate in what must have devolved into a sad excursion into student privacy. Those few had no real choices - quit, get transferrred somewhere where access would be denied, or be quiet and know they will also get the boot when the time comes.

        Maybe, just maybe, there is enough of an audit trail to exon

    • Re:Wow... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by eln (21727) on Thursday May 06, 2010 @04:03PM (#32116392) Homepage
      Unless the IT department personnel have copies of email threads which include them vehemently opposing this policy, I have little sympathy for them. This sort of spying is highly unethical, and an IT department should, ideally, refuse to honor the request. Realistically, I can see people who depend on that job doing it, but I would expect them to do whatever they could to dissuade the school district from doing it first, and maybe anonymously whistleblowing to the local newspaper second. If all they can show is that they were "just following orders", that's not enough to absolve them.
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Locke2005 (849178)
        ...an IT department should, ideally, refuse to honor the request. You mean, just like Terry Childs did? Look, I've dealt with school officials, and their basic attitude is "We're doing this with good intentions, therefore there couldn't be anything wrong with it. And they stick to that story, even when presented with overwhelming proof that what they are doing is a violation of the law, because they are inherently incapable of admitting they have made a mistake.
        • ...an IT department should, ideally, refuse to honor the request. You mean, just like Terry Childs did?

          Childs refused his boss' and a judge's orders to protect his network. He didn't refuse his boss' and a judge's orders to do something that he thought was against the law.

          If it doesn't feel right, or legal, or ethical, then you need to speak up, move on, or document the crap out of it to protect yourself. Participating, and then laughing about it via email isn't exactly the same thing.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by interkin3tic (1469267)

          You mean, just like Terry Childs did?

          Refusing to help start a spying program is quite a bit different than refusing to hand over access to the city's systems. If you can't see the difference, I really hope for your sake you don't work in an IT department, or if you do you have a realy good lawyer.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by pclminion (145572)

          ...an IT department should, ideally, refuse to honor the request. You mean, just like Terry Childs did?

          Oh fucking get real, it's totally different.

          "Your honor, we request you throw the book at this guy for refusing to implement a system that could have been used to produce massive amounts of child porn."

          His Honor: "Dude, WTF are you smoking?"

          I'll take the odds on that one.

      • Re:Wow... (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Jeng (926980) on Thursday May 06, 2010 @04:12PM (#32116556)

        How often does IT get to make moral decisions?

        School Administration "Hey, activate the anti-theft program on XXXXX due to non-payment."

        School IT "I'm sorry, I don't believe I'll do that because I don't trust your decision making abilities."

        School Administration "Bye Bye"

        • by eln (21727)
          This is why I made the distinction between "ideally" and "realistically". Ideally, the IT department would have the sack to refuse and the administration would have the brains to listen. Realistically, at least an email thread explaining IT's opposition to the move before they did it would at least tell us they knew it was wrong and tried to stop it.
          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by Jeng (926980)

            If the school is telling you to turn on the anti-theft program on a school laptop what is your argument you would make to the administrators to let them know that what they are doing is wrong?

            Secondly, how would you know that it would be wrong for them to turn on the anti-theft tracking software in the first place?

            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              Well, if my boss told me to break into someone's house, or even to look in the windows because they though that that someone had stolen equipment from work I'd say "sure, as soon as the police officer with the warrant gets here I'll be happy to help him!" If a crime hasn't occurred, then it's not worth activating a "feature" like this. If it has occurred, then it's worth getting the police involved. If it's in between, then it's time to call your insurance company and see if they'll pay the claim for the "

              • by Jeng (926980)

                The common sense probably would have been to use an anti-theft tracking software that does not take pictures.

                • No. Common sense would be to use anti-theft tracking software to track stuff that's actually been stolen.

        • The time to oppose this program/policy/practice is when they are talking about purchasing it and/or installing it. I find it hard to believe everyone involved thought it was a great idea. Someone's gonna pop up with something to cover their own ass before all this is over.
          • by Jeng (926980)

            I'm not well schooled in this, but I can't imagine a school purchasing laptops for students to take home without some form of anti-theft tracking software. Can you imagine the slashdot thread on that happening when half the laptops disappear?

            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by h4rr4r (612664)

              Seems simple enough, you make the kids parents sign for the machines. If the machine disappears they pay for it.

              • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

                by dcollins (135727)

                No, no, "I can't imagine" doing this without my Orwellian omni-surveillance iPantopticon! "I can't imagine" not being tagged, tracked, and on camera at all time! "I can't imagine"
                what anyone did to protect leased property prior to 2000AD!

        • School Administration "Hey, activate the anti-theft program on XXXXX due to non-payment."

          School IT: put a ticket in the cue and i will do it as soon as the ticket shows up (loads the control console and has it minimized while he deals with the other 30 things he needs to get done YESTERDAY)

          this is a No Ticky No LawnLee kind of thing

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Maxo-Texas (864189)

        Didn't we learn from the Terry Childs case that if the people who own the software / hardware tell you to do something, you do it or risk a felony conviction for obstructing their use of the devices.

        So do what they say or you are screwed. but wait... do what they say and you are screwed anyway.

        Best to not work in that field until they work up some new boilerplate that protects Tech folks from immoral bosses directives.

      • Re:Wow... (Score:5, Informative)

        by Maestro4k (707634) on Thursday May 06, 2010 @07:17PM (#32119230) Journal

        Unless the IT department personnel have copies of email threads which include them vehemently opposing this policy, I have little sympathy for them.

        Actually, they have pretty much the exact opposite. It turns out a student intern researched the LanRev software capabilities and was quite concerned about the potential for abuse, and sent an E-mail expressing their concerns to IT management [philly.com]. And of course the "adults" brushed off this student's concerns, and guess what? The student pretty much predicted the entire mess the school system's involved in now ahead of time, they should have listened to them.

    • re: wow... (Score:3, Insightful)

      by ed.han (444783)
      i really don't think that the the heads that roll will be confined to IT. in that kind of environment, someone puts together a request that goes to IT, right? it won't be IT that approved the webcam capability on the hardware.

      ed
    • by Intron (870560)

      I sure hope those "IT Dept" folks have emails archived indicating the request to do this.

      The "We were only following orders" defense didn't work out so well for the last guys that used it. It doesn't matter who told you to do it when you're breaking the law and you know it.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Shakrai (717556)

        The "We were only following orders" defense didn't work out so well for the last guys that used it.

        Yes, because this is comparable to genocide....

        It doesn't matter who told you to do it when you're breaking the law and you know it.

        Is there a law against installing spyware on corporate/school district machines? It surely would have been a violation of the law to install said software on the students personal machines, but on school supplied machines?

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward

          Yes, because this is comparable to genocide....

          It doesn't need to be. Analogies are not invalidated by differences in scale.

    • Re:Wow... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Enderandrew (866215) <enderandrew.gmail@com> on Thursday May 06, 2010 @04:06PM (#32116440) Homepage Journal

      Didn't the principal suspend a kid for supposedly taking "drugs" at home, that turned out to be Mike N' Ikes?

      The principal was at the very least aware of images taken of students in their homes and had no problems with them at the time the suspension was issued.

      I don't claim to know the facts of the matter, but it sure looks like lies compounding on lies. I really hope the people in charge get nailed for this. If I was a parent with a student at that school, I'd be filing a lawsuit.

      • Re:Wow... (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Ethanol-fueled (1125189) * on Thursday May 06, 2010 @05:17PM (#32117460) Homepage Journal

        Didn't the principal suspend a kid for supposedly taking "drugs" at home, that turned out to be Mike N' Ikes?

        It dosen't matter even if the student was smoking a joint or snorting a line of coke. It's still none of the school's damn business what students do outside of school, unless it was a school-sponsored function or they were scooped up by the cops or campus security for being truant, period.

        ...And the mods always string me up by my balls for saying this: Students don't need cell phones and laptops at high school. The computer labs and libraries are more than good enough.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by zippthorne (748122)

          Yeah, but with jellybeans, the officials don't even have the shaky pretense of "at least we found drugs" to lean on. That's gotta make it harder to manufacture the ambiguity they need to attempt to garner public sympathy.

    • Re:Wow... (Score:5, Informative)

      by doas777 (1138627) on Thursday May 06, 2010 @04:30PM (#32116834)
      I sympathise with them to a certain extent, but Mike Prebix has been caught on film making statements about how cool it was that he could use this software to observe students without them knowing.

      Additionally there is plenty of evidence that IT staff did view the images as is shown in their emails. the report concludes that "there was no evidence of spying" but acknowledges that there would be no way to obtain evidence that spying was or wasn't happening. there were numerous incidents where the software was engaged, but for no known reason, and several times when it was engaged but there is no record of who made the request, or in some cases, of who actually turned it on.

      it also doesn't lend credibility that they purged the entire LanRev TheftTracker database some months before this issue, destroying much of what would have been evidence in this case.

    • by mcgrew (92797) *

      Otherwise...wow. I feel bad for them.

      I don't feel sorry for anyone with such lax morals. WTF is wrong with people?

  • by operagost (62405) on Thursday May 06, 2010 @03:50PM (#32116180) Homepage Journal
    It's Lower Merion.
  • ...Seriously? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Darkness404 (1287218) on Thursday May 06, 2010 @03:50PM (#32116190)
    Ok, really "Lax IT policies" and "record keeping"? How is that even an excuse? Yeah, if perhaps like 30 pictures were taken it could be blamed on that. But seriously? 58,000 pictures? There is more than lax IT policies. Yeah, perhaps someone might do it once to get a laugh, but no (sane) person is going to do it 58,000 times.

    How hard is it not to activate software unless the laptop has been stolen? It it isn't like its too hard to determine if it has been stolen or not...
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      The definition of chutzpah is saying this:

      Ballard Spahr admits that there is no way to determine how often the images were viewed, but says it found no evidence that the IT staff had viewed any of the images.

      when you got by acting on what you thought you saw in one of those images. Wow. Do they cut out that little part of the brain with the "do not lie" label when you become a lawyer?

    • Not to mention this was always a bad idea.

      These were Apple laptops, right? I know Apple offers MobileMe tracking on lost/stolen iPads and iPhones. Why not work with Apple on a solution for laptops as well?

      The second someone first uttered the phrase "turning on a webcam on a child's laptop without their knowledge" anyone with a shred of common sense should have said no.

    • I honestly hope they go through every image. Ya know why? So we can see if any of them contain student nudity. Because with that high number, and amount of images taken student's homes? There's going to be some image that's highly illegal. I really hope they get down to the content of the images at some point. I'll have a bowl of popcorn handy if it ever happens because that'll be the best shit-storm ever!!!
      • by zeroduck (691015)
        They have already done that with the 58,000 pictures they have recovered (there supposedly are more they haven't recovered). The report from the defendants claims that there was no nudity, only a picture with partial nudity. Take that as you will.
  • I probably watch too many cop shows but when a suspect says, "No proof exists", it's usually a sign of moral guilt. Maybe even of distruction of evidence. Regardless, this is weak and should be treated as a serious infringement against the privacy of the students and their families.

    IMHO, of course. Oh, and IANAL but I do watch Law and Order. ;)

    • by Chris Burke (6130) on Thursday May 06, 2010 @04:07PM (#32116458) Homepage

      It just makes me think of Bart Simpson:

      "I didn't do it.
      Nobody saw me do it.
      You can't prove anything."

    • "I probably watch too many cop shows but when a suspect says, "No proof exists", it's usually a sign of moral guilt."

      Maybe. But it's usually more a sign that "no proof exists".

      Regarding morals Romans already did it quite right more than 2000 years ago with things like 'in dubio pro reo'.

    • by Nick Ives (317)

      There's no "maybe" about it. The IT people knew what they were doing was wrong and so stored all incriminating evidence in a manner that would allow them to easily destroy it when the shit hit the fan. They most likely had it all on a single hard drive and then just used something like GNU shred on it when the scandal came to light.

  • by gmuslera (3436) on Thursday May 06, 2010 @03:51PM (#32116218) Homepage Journal
    put the gun in jail, we are innocent.
  • by LWATCDR (28044) on Thursday May 06, 2010 @03:55PM (#32116274) Homepage Journal

    Really how did they see the kid eating Mike and Ike's candy?
    And isn't a crime to spy even if you don't look at the data?

  • by peter303 (12292) on Thursday May 06, 2010 @03:58PM (#32116340)
    You never know where there may be a camera, especially outside. You never know where your intertube bits may end up. Assume the worst. This is just a preview of the future.
    • This is just a preview of the future.

      We were told there would be jetpacks! Where's my jetpack, damnit!

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Locke2005 (849178)
      One would think a teenager alone in his own bedroom would have a "reasonable expectation of privacy". Especially since we all KNOW what teenagers do when alone in their own bedrooms!
    • There may not be practical privacy, but there's still a right to privacy and laws against spying.

      Assume the worst, but don't be complacent and tolerant when it happens.

      When walking the street at night in a bad neighborhood, I try to stay in the light and away from dark corners. Assuming the worst. If I am mugged or assualted, I'm still calling the cops.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      This is not a case of a photograph taken in public, it is a case of a photograph that was secretly taken inside someone's home. There are specific protections against that sort of behavior, particularly when it is a government agency engaging in it. Yes, privacy still matters, despite the fact that it has become cool to voluntarily abandon it.
    • I've heard that on average, a person is captured on camera 1,000 times in a given day in London. That number seems a little high, when when I was there, I did notice camers EVERYWHERE.

  • whitewash (Score:5, Informative)

    by hduff (570443) <hoytduff.gmail@com> on Thursday May 06, 2010 @04:04PM (#32116410) Homepage Journal

    The "independent" report was written by a law firm hired by the school system.

    The IT guy made forum posts talking about the "security" system.

    The school used the software to do more that locate and retrieve lost or stolen laptops with all this starting because one student was accused of dealing "drugs" (aka Mike & Ike candy) based on a captured image.

    This report is just posturing by adults who should know better but who have stupidly done something unethical and illegal.

    The adults involved should be subject to a "zero tolerance" interpretation of the law. They can make new friends in prison and learn a trade since they won't again be employed in education in their lifetime.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Zerth (26112)

      I like the bit where the report admits the Board members did indeed have knowledge of the tracking, but were too ignorant to realize what that meant, and that any who may have realized that it took pictures thought that it only would take a picture once.

      And because they were ignorant, they didn't think to ask "if you can take one picture, why can't you take more pictures" and "what keeps anybody from doing this whenever they wanted".

      They did, however, think to ask "can we disable tracking for certain laptop

  • No really! We got a ton of pictures but no one ever looked! You can't prove it!

    Seriously?

    How in the world can anyone believe that? Then what in the heck was the purpose of taking the pictures? The whole point of taking pictures is to look. No reasonable person would believe 58,000 pictures were taken but no one looked. Nice try though.

    • "How in the world can anyone believe that? Then what in the heck was the purpose of taking the pictures?"

      In order for the director to review them, not the IT staff.

      Understood now?

      "No reasonable person would believe 58,000 pictures were taken but no one looked."

      Maybe. But nobody is saying no one looked at them. Only that there's no proof that IT staff looked at them.

      • by cynyr (703126)
        also it's a computer and it can be told to do things without human intervention.
  • As expected (Score:4, Interesting)

    by wisnoskij (1206448) on Thursday May 06, 2010 @04:20PM (#32116676) Homepage

    It is the minions fault, of course no one in management would ever do anything amoral.

  • Grain of Salt (Score:4, Informative)

    by kjs3 (601225) on Thursday May 06, 2010 @04:21PM (#32116698)

    To be clear, this was a report done by a law firm retained by the school district to "investigate" the situation. One shouldn't take it as conclusive or impartial.

  • by Posting=!Working (197779) on Thursday May 06, 2010 @04:33PM (#32116866)

    An assistant principal looked at images of a student in their home and punished the student for what they saw.

    I'll buy their excuse once the can explain how the I.T. department did the above. Explain how the assistant principal didn't know of the capability while punishing the student for a picture taken in the students home using this very capability.

    The capability was known and the invasion of privacy was just fine with the administration until the moment they got sued. If it weren't, the situation causing the lawsuit could never have happened in the first place.

  • cost? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by belmolis (702863) <.ude.tim.mula. .ta. .resopllib.> on Thursday May 06, 2010 @05:08PM (#32117376) Homepage

    The monitoring software is a commercial product, isn't it? Anyone know how much it costs? If the cost is non-trivial, it seems likely that someone reasonably high up in the school administration had to approve the purchase and therefore knew what it was for.

  • by Whuffo (1043790) on Friday May 07, 2010 @12:06AM (#32122120) Homepage Journal

    Did the IT department decide on its own to install this monitoring software? No, the school administration did. Were the IT workers free to do whatever they wanted? No, they were required to perform jobs assigned by the school administration. Who suspended a student because the picture showed him taking drugs? Yup, the school administration.

    Do we believe what the lawyers are saying? Of course not; they're paid to lie and their "you can't prove it" comment shows how they feel about the truth here. It's no surprise that the school administrators are worried - because they've jumped into the same pit as many other child molesters and kiddie porn vendors with both feet. They're even worse because their victims didn't even know they were being filmed.

    Justice would require that their occupation and standing be disregarded and the mere facts of their crimes be considered: secretly installing video monitoring in the bedrooms of hundreds of minor children and using that equipment to take at least 60,000 pictures of those minors in various states of undress. These are serious crimes and the excuses they are offering are just the same sort of excuses other felons who have been caught would offer in their own defense. Considering the number of offenses, it would be multiple life sentences - if the law works the way it is supposed to.

    You'd better believe that if one of us were secretly taking pictures of hundreds of minors they'd put us in prison and throw away the key. Let's see what happens when school administrators do that same thing. If they don't draw long prison sentences, I'd be asking loudly why not.

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