Catch up on stories from the past week (and beyond) at the Slashdot story archive


Forgot your password?

Slashdot videos: Now with more Slashdot!

  • View

  • Discuss

  • Share

We've improved Slashdot's video section; now you can view our video interviews, product close-ups and site visits with all the usual Slashdot options to comment, share, etc. No more walled garden! It's a work in progress -- we hope you'll check it out (Learn more about the recent updates).

Privacy Education Your Rights Online

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."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

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

Comments Filter:
  • Wow... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Em Emalb (452530) < minus herbivore> 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. I feel bad for them.

  • ...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...
  • by rjamestaylor (117847) Works for Rackspace <> on Thursday May 06, 2010 @03:51PM (#32116198) Journal

    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 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?

  • 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. 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:...Seriously? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 06, 2010 @03:57PM (#32116312)
    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?

  • 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: wow... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ed.han (444783) on Thursday May 06, 2010 @04:04PM (#32116406) Journal
    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.

  • Re:Wow... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Enderandrew (866215) <enderandrew AT gmail DOT 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.

  • 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."

  • Re:Wow... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Locke2005 (849178) on Thursday May 06, 2010 @04:08PM (#32116462) 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.
  • Re:Wow... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Shakrai (717556) on Thursday May 06, 2010 @04:10PM (#32116494) Journal

    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?

  • by Locke2005 (849178) on Thursday May 06, 2010 @04:11PM (#32116532)
    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!
  • 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 betterunixthanunix (980855) on Thursday May 06, 2010 @04:15PM (#32116588)
    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.
  • 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 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.

  • Re:Wow... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by h4rr4r (612664) on Thursday May 06, 2010 @04:33PM (#32116868)

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

  • Re:Wow... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by dcollins (135727) on Thursday May 06, 2010 @04:42PM (#32116986) Homepage

    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!

  • by Jer (18391) on Thursday May 06, 2010 @04:44PM (#32117028) Homepage

    The computer was removed from the school without paying the required insurance fee to do so. They then accessed files on the laptop and when they reviewed them, they thought they saw drugs in a picture. The school district felt obligated to inform the parents of the possible drugs.

    I think the OP is wondering how that squares with this:

    the report also maintains that no proof exists that anyone in IT viewed images captured by the webcams."

    If there's "no proof" that anyone in IT viewed the images, how did the picture of the kid eating candy end up in the hands of a school administrator?

  • by LWATCDR (28044) on Thursday May 06, 2010 @04:52PM (#32117146) Homepage Journal

    1. The student can not turn on the Web cam only the school can.
    2. It is still spying and illegal to remotely turn on a recording device and then later recover the data from the device. You know like planting say a tape-recorder in a conference room.
    3. They reviews the pictures they got from spying.
    4. It seems that they told the student but no where did I see that they informed the parents.
    5. What proof do you have that the picture was on the local drive and sent over the net? Even if it was it just doesn't matter.
    6. YOU DON"T FREAKING NEED A WEB CAM TO TRACK A LAPTOP! All they need to know was that it was accessing the net from a location that wasn't the school!
    Frankly WHAT IS DUMB AS A BOX OF ROCKS is if they really didn't want the laptops to work off campus they could have had it lock if they used it off the school network if it was not insured!

    Even if everything you say is right so?
    They illegally spied on the kid. Jail time.

  • Re:Wow... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Maxo-Texas (864189) on Thursday May 06, 2010 @04:58PM (#32117232)

    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, Insightful)

    by kenj0418 (230916) on Thursday May 06, 2010 @05:04PM (#32117320)

    At some places, you do your job and keep your mouth shut, or find somewhere else to work.

    If "do your job" involves surreptitiously photographing under-18 kids without their or their parents knowledge, then "find somewhere else to work" is the correct option.

  • cost? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by belmolis (702863) <> 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.

  • 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:Wow... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by interkin3tic (1469267) on Thursday May 06, 2010 @05:23PM (#32117530)

    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:Wow... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 06, 2010 @05:31PM (#32117606)

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

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

  • Re:Wow... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Platinumrat (1166135) on Thursday May 06, 2010 @06:05PM (#32118120) Journal
    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 are applicable in the application of our daily jobs. Ignorance is not an excuse.
  • Re:Wow... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by pclminion (145572) on Thursday May 06, 2010 @07:36PM (#32119506) 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:3, Insightful)

    by arekusu_ou (1344373) on Thursday May 06, 2010 @08:06PM (#32119870)

    Not to mention IT puts you in a position to hear and see alot of confidential things that your pay grade shouldn't. The field requires a certain level of professionalism that you keep things to yourself unless there's a good reason not to. It also helps to understand how upper management feels about rules, are the rules strict and they will follow through zero tolerance, or is it something they just say but don't want to know about breakages.

    In the end, just got to use best judgment and like others say, make sure YOU'RE not breaking any laws and papertrails are good.

  • 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.

  • Re:Wow... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Miseph (979059) on Friday May 07, 2010 @01:14AM (#32122558) Journal

    Given the amount of unethical behavior people engage in on a daily basis, I would say that you were being far more insightful than sarcastic.

    Sure, nobody would come out and say they aren't hiring you because they don't want a conflict with their misdeeds, but it's always easy enough to just say "sorry, we decided to go with somebody else, best of luck" and hire somebody less scrupulous.

  • Re:Wow... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by mjwx (966435) on Friday May 07, 2010 @01:15AM (#32122564)

    If "do your job" involves surreptitiously photographing under-18 kids without their or their parents knowledge, then "find somewhere else to work" is the correct option.

    When your job is the only thing feeding a family in a weak economy with high unemployment and a penchant for outsourcing your type of work, the right choice is keep your mouth shut.

    The world is never quite as black and white as you make it seem. You could make the "correct" choice for yourself but what about people depending on you (dependants)?

    Why does this story reek of some bureaucratic arse trying to push the blame onto IT by saying "they should have known better then to do what I told them to". I know "I was only following orders" is not a valid defence but neither is "they shouldn't have followed my orders".

  • Re:Wow... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Mr. Freeman (933986) on Friday May 07, 2010 @04:39AM (#32123666)
    Not a troll, but beyond pessimistic. People with this kind of attitude do nothing but perpetuate the unethical behavior that we keep hearing about every time someone with some sense of ethics decides to report it. The whole "keep your head down" might be necessary if you have a family or some other circumstances and you absolutely cannot afford to lose your job, but if that isn't the case then failing to report unethical behavior makes you just as bad as those doing it.

    "I don't steal money from the company, therefore I'm completely ethical even though i know that Jim is stealing tens of thousands per year to buy fancy cars even if I don't report it." Bullshit.
  • Re:Wow... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by zippthorne (748122) on Friday May 07, 2010 @07:01AM (#32124318) Journal

    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.

After any salary raise, you will have less money at the end of the month than you did before.