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Feds Won't File Charges In School Laptop-Spy Case 398

Posted by samzenpus
from the noa-culpa dept.
jamie writes "Federal prosecutors have decided not to file charges against a Philadelphia school district or its employees over the use of software to remotely monitor students. From the article: 'US Attorney Zane David Memeger says investigators have found no evidence of criminal intent by Lower Merion School District employees who activated tracking software that took thousands of webcam and screenshot images on school-provided laptops.'"
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Feds Won't File Charges In School Laptop-Spy Case

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  • Ho hum (Score:5, Insightful)

    by schmidt349 (690948) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @07:20PM (#33283096)

    Of course the Fed won't prosecute them. After all, it'd just be hypocritical if they went after a bunch of perverted quasi-Orwellian miscreants for doing, on a much smaller scale, the same kind of espionage the Fed directs against its own citizens on a daily basis.

    • Not a Pedo Thing (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Frosty Piss (770223) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @07:27PM (#33283150)
      Well, they couldn't spin it as a Pedo Teacher thing, so they decided it wasn't worth it. You know, "think of the children..."
    • "Intent"? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by v1 (525388) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @07:38PM (#33283238) Homepage Journal

      since when was there a need to prove "criminal intent" before prosecuting someone?

      • Re:"Intent"? (Score:5, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @07:46PM (#33283300)

        since when was there a need to prove "criminal intent" before prosecuting someone?

        Always. Criminal guilt carries to elements:

        Actus reus = the guilty act
        Mens rea = the guilty mind

        This is why "insanity" is a valid defense (there is no guilty mind) and why we don't put children or animals in jail (they are amoral, and cant have a guilty mind).

        There are crimes that dont require mens rea (called "strict liability") but they are usually either minor offenses, or when the actor is taking one some obviously large risk that requires a very high standard of care (like when transporting hazardous waste). ... or statutory rape.

        • by sznupi (719324)

          I guess most of the animals guilty of some "crime" would actually prefer jail (not much different to what already happens to many) instead of a typical fate of such "undesirables"...

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by timeOday (582209)

          This is why [] we don't put children [] in jail (they are amoral, and cant have a guilty mind)."

          Except we do [wsws.org]. I always think about this when people express shock and disgust at Mullahs marrying off 13-year-olds. We shouldn't prosecute criminal children as adults either, and for the same reasons.

        • Re:"Intent"? (Score:4, Informative)

          by delinear (991444) on Wednesday August 18, 2010 @04:07AM (#33285678)

          That is true, but "guilty mind" is misleading - it doesn't necessarily mean that you had to intend a crime, just that you intended the action. For instance, if you were completely unaware that murder was a crime and you purposely shoot someone with the intent to kill, even though you didn't intend a crime you are still guilty of both the act and the intent.

          Furthermore, while the court has to find you guilty beyond reasonable doubt for criminal convictions, it can use the "reasonable man" (i.e. on the balance of probabilities what would the reasonable man have thought or done) in establishing mens rea - therefore even if these officials didn't intend to break the law, breaking the law was an obvious outcome of their actions and the reasonable man would have recognised that before acting. I don't see any issue with proving guilt on both parts here, I guess "think of the children" only applies when it's being used to force through unpopular security theatre, not when it's being used as a defence against it.

      • Re:"Intent"? (Score:5, Informative)

        by cappp (1822388) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @07:46PM (#33283308)
        Some crimes require mens rae [wikipedia.org] which is criminal intent. Others are Strict Liability - think statuatory rape - meaning that intent doesn't matter. In both cases there exists Prosecutorial Discretion [wikipedia.org] which does what it says on the box - lets prosecutors chose whether or not to go after a defendant.

        So there's been no judgment as to the actual legality of the issues at question, the prosecutor has just decided not to bring suit. In some situations that seems to be the fairer idea - 18yr old having sex with her 17yr old long term partnet being the most cited example - but there's obviously room for a lot of unfairness.
        • Re:"Intent"? (Score:5, Insightful)

          by CodeBuster (516420) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @09:26PM (#33284086)

          but there's obviously room for a lot of unfairness.

          More it seems than most people are willing to say. The wealthy, the powerful, the famous and the politically well connected or their clients always seem to find themselves treated differently, some would say more deferentially, than the common man. It has been this way for as long as there has been courts and recorded history. The best that we ordinary people can do is withhold our votes for those who promise to ever tougher laws because it is invariably the ordinary man who invariably suffers most when these new rules are applied with ruthless zeal by prosecutors seeking to advance political careers regardless of the human cost. Indeed, the present situation here in the United States is enough to convert even the most optimistic citizen into an ardent student of Machiavelli [wikipedia.org].

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by delt0r (999393)
            We have a lot more options than just not voting. The vote is only a small part of representative democracy.
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Patch86 (1465427)

          While true "mens rae" doesn't neccessarily have to mean that you understand the law you're breaking, only that you intended the action that broke the law. Ignorance is not an excuse, as they say.

          So for examble, shooting someone with a gun. If it's a complete accident, and no-one is to blame, that's OK. If you are to blame, that's negligence. If you aimed at someone and fired, that's GBH/murder. Even if you were completely and honestly unaware that shooting people was illegal, it'd still be GBH/murder if you

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Where does your sister live? I'll send her a camera... I promise my intentions aren't criminal.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @07:21PM (#33283102)

    good lesson to teach the next generation: we will spy on you - sit down and shut the fuck up.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Why do you support the terrorists? Constant monitoring is the only way we can be safe!

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by cayenne8 (626475)
      "good lesson to teach the next generation: we will spy on you - sit down and shut the fuck up."

      What one generation accepts...

      ...The NEXT generation embraces.

      • by MasaMuneCyrus (779918) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @08:54PM (#33283836)

        What one generation accepts... ...The NEXT generation embraces.

        Because all of us here on the internet (the younger generations) are accepting of the majority of now middle-aged Americans that support monitoring of the internet, support outlawing gay marriage, support a zero-tolerance war on drugs, etc...

        And on that note, just as how all the hippies of the 1970's were totally acceptant of the rules imposed on them by the post-WWII generation and the big federal government...

  • Just because... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by eggman9713 (714915) <{eggman97132007} {at} {mac.com}> on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @07:22PM (#33283116)
    Just because the feds won't file charges doesn't mean the students themselves or the local DA or state AG can't file civil or criminal charges.
    • by Dunbal (464142) *

      Yes but the State is always the first in line to throw the book at you if you break the law. Here they just look the other way. What kind of message does this send to any judge presiding over a civil suit? Especially a judge who had hoped to be promoted some day to a higher court.

    • Re:Just because... (Score:5, Informative)

      by pclminion (145572) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @08:20PM (#33283594)
      No -- in the USA, only a prosecutor can file criminal charges. People sometimes say here, "I'm going to press charges," but that really just means cooperating with a prosecutor or attorney general. If your father punches you in a drunken fight, and you tell the cops you don't want to file charges, you better hope they want to cooperate... They can charge, or not charge, whoever they want. You have no control over it.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by BitterOak (537666)

        No -- in the USA, only a prosecutor can file criminal charges. People sometimes say here, "I'm going to press charges," but that really just means cooperating with a prosecutor or attorney general. If your father punches you in a drunken fight, and you tell the cops you don't want to file charges, you better hope they want to cooperate... They can charge, or not charge, whoever they want. You have no control over it.

        If you read the GPs post, you'll see (s)he said "Just because the feds won't file charges doesn't mean the students themselves or the local DA or state AG can't file civil or criminal charges." [emphasis added.]

        I think the GP meant that the students would file the civil suits, and state or local prosecutors would file criminal charges.

        Personally, I didn't think this case would amount to anything. Only one family claimed their kid was spied on, and what little evidence there was points to a misunderstanding

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by deblau (68023)
        You seem to have missed the parent's post. There are two kinds of legal systems in the US: state and federal. If the federal prosecutor doesn't prosecute based on federal laws, the state prosecutor can still prosecute based on violations of state law.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by BitZtream (692029)

        While you are partially correct, the prosecutor can opt out if you do not file a complaint.

        Once a complaint has been filed it must be acted upon, of course it has to meet certain prerequisites like having some actual likely hood of being true and a crime having been committed.

        The prosecutor simply has the option of filing a complaint themselves if you don't.

  • by RobertM1968 (951074) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @07:23PM (#33283124) Homepage Journal

    This really sets a horrendous precedent, as it gives school officials the ability to use such invasive and insane actions to spy on kids.

    Amazing that the government's "think of the children" response to everything else unrelated isn't being applied to one of the few cases where it actually should be.

    • Ahem, a precedent is set by going to trial, not by avoiding it. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Precedent [wikipedia.org]

      • Ahem, a precedent is set by going to trial, not by avoiding it. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Precedent [wikipedia.org]

        Unless of course, I was using the word "precedent" in a non-court/legal related way. In which case it applies, and my statement is indicating that, without a change in the government's mindset, it sets a precedent in how the government will handle such things.

      • by PPH (736903) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @08:09PM (#33283494)

        Which is why our system of prosecutorial discretion [wikipedia.org] needs to be overhauled. It undermines the concept of equal protection under the law.

        While all are ensured equitable and fair treatment in court, the odds of their ever coming to trial is totally dependant on the whim of the prosecutor. And eventually the majority that elected him/her to office. Which is something that our Constitution and Bill of Rights is supposed to protect us from.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Narcogen (666692)

          Which is why our system of
          prosecutorial discretion [wikipedia.org] needs to be overhauled. It undermines the concept of equal protection under the law.

          While all are ensured equitable and fair treatment in court, the odds of their ever coming to trial is totally dependant on the whim of the prosecutor. And eventually the majority that elected him/her to office. Which is something that our Constitution and Bill of Rights is supposed to protect us from.

          The alternative is what... having it depend on the whim of the plaintiffs? Allowing for the same kind of litigous attidue that permeates the civil courts into the criminal courts, where the accused have a right to a public defender, paid for by public funds?

          How with the massive increase in caseload be dealt with? Who will pay for the huge influx of new prosecuting attorneys-- the public? The plaintiffs? All this does is take the undermining of equal protection under the law that already exists in the civil

    • by KahabutDieDrake (1515139) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @07:38PM (#33283242)
      It really doesn't set a precedent of any kind. First off, there may still be local criminal filings, and almost certainly a civil suit. If I had kids in that school, you can fucking well bet I'd be talking to a lawyer. I'd be suing for anything and everything, and I'd also be lobbying the school board, and or local parents to replace the entire school board, and then replace the entire administration and staff that were privy to this.

      Intent or not, this was a serious breach of privacy. It's also potentially a violation of any number of anti-spying laws. Is it actually legal for a school to install a video camera in my home? If it is, maybe it's time to change the law. If it isn't, why aren't these people being put before a judge? This entire thing reeks. School administrations have gotten just a little out of control lately, and it's about time we smack them back into line. Since we aren't supposed to take someone out behind the gym and beat sense into them anymore, that leaves the political, or legal avenues. The Fed declining to prosecute doesn't constitute an end to the legal front.
      • Sorry, not a LEGAL precedent. But a precedent in how the feds deal with such similar complaints or actions.

        • Oh... yeah I should have figured that out. In any case, that's ok. We don't really want the fed getting any more involved in public schools. This should be handled at the local level. The only time I want to see the fed getting involved is if this kind of thing happens across multiple states.
      • Is it actually legal for a school to install a video camera in my home?

        It is if you consent to it. Now...if they bend/break the rules on when they turn it on, that's another thing entirely.
      • by cgenman (325138)

        I'm reminded of how security researchers and general white-hats in this country live in constant fear of being arrested for doing the right thing. If it's not some overly broad DMCA interpretation, it's wiretapping or digital trespass. I can only hope the standard of "they didn't mean any harm" will be applied to everyone in the country who didn't mean any harm, and not just people who do this stuff en masse.

    • It distinctly avoids setting a precedent. Prosecuter's are not judges. If enough people leaving flaming bags of dog shit on his doorstep (or the Mayor's), he'll get the message and tow the line. If that doesn't happen, then I guess he will have made the right decision.
      • It distinctly avoids setting a precedent. Prosecuter's are not judges. If enough people leaving flaming bags of dog shit on his doorstep (or the Mayor's), he'll get the message and tow the line. If that doesn't happen, then I guess he will have made the right decision.

        Wow, I forgot so many of you play /. lawyers. There are other applicable definitions for the term which apply to my statement. I thought it was OBVIOUS that I was not talking about a legal related precedent. That means the following definition applies to my statement, as I explained... oh, 3 times so far:

        a. An act or instance that may be used as an example in dealing with subsequent similar instances.

        Inotherwords, this may affect how other prosecutors decide to (or not to) deal with similar situations.

    • Well, it is being applied -- think of what the children might be up to, or who might be taking advantage of them, when we're not looking?

      It's basically a profound lack of ability to perceive irony [youtube.com]...

  • Before everyone gets outraged, the fact that the fed won't file charges on it doesn't mean the case is dropped. In fact, I think that the fact that the feds aren't filing charges is really the right thing to do, the goal wasn't criminal, its a civil matter and thus should be settled in civil court with such charges of fraud, breach of contract, etc.
    • by Charliemopps (1157495) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @07:47PM (#33283310)
      Ignorance of the law is no excuse for breaking the law. I had a federal judge tell me that once. Guess it's just unlucky for me I don't work for the government.
    • Tell ya what... tell me where you sister lives and I'll send her a camera... it's ok... I promise my intent is not criminal.. you can trust me!

    • by Sancho (17056) *

      I actually think that someone should go to jail over this breach, and that's not going to happen in a civil trial. Fines just don't really do anything anymore.

      • Because guess who gets to pay the fines?

        The families in the school district.

        If the families sue the district then there is less money to go into the class room. Taxes must be raised to properly educate the children. If the families sue individuals the individuals will just be reimbursed by the district or the district's insurance company. Once again class-room money is drained away and taxes must be raised to replace it.

        Unless individuals can be sued and barred from getting any reimbursement.

    • its a civil matter and thus should be settled in civil court with such charges of fraud, breach of contract, etc.

      Again I ask, why would you say that? I doubt you're an attorney (neither am I, for that matter) but if you were to sneak into someone's home and hide a remote video camera in their children's bedroom, just what do you think would happen when the cam is discovered? For one thing, I can guarantee that law enforcement will be damned interested in charging you with criminal behavior. Parents can file civil suits if they wish, but the cops will nail you to the cross as a criminal, and rightfully so. Your plainti

  • criminal intent? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by flabbergast (620919) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @07:31PM (#33283198)
    U.S. Attorney Zane David Memeger says investigators have found no evidence of criminal intent...

    So, when the speed limit changes from a 55 to a 35 MPH zone in 100 feet and I didn't see the sign, does that mean I don't get a ticket because I didn't intend to commit a crime?
    • Legal definition? (Score:3, Informative)

      by SpeedyDX (1014595)

      Not quite sure whether the prosecutor was using the laymen definition or legal definition of criminal intent, the article is sparse and the prosecutor was smart enough to use an ambiguous term. The laymen definition of criminal intent is something like wanting to do something evil, or wanting to commit some sort of crime. The legal definition (in Canada, but should be similar in US) of criminal intent (or mens rea) is simply that you intended to do (or should have known that your actions would lead to you d

  • by jpapon (1877296) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @07:35PM (#33283224) Journal
    The case isn't dropped completely, and for that I'm glad:

    A student and his family sued the district in February, claiming officials invaded his privacy by activating the software. That case continues.

    But still, it really grinds my gears that this whole thing isn't explicitly illegal. The fact that it's legal for the school district to take thousands of screenshots of unsuspecting children is really pretty upsetting.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      Just because this is not explicitly illegal according to federal law does not mean that it is not explicitly illegal (I'm not sure whether it is or not). This is the sort of thing that should not be a violation of federal law, this should be a violation of state law. If there is not currently a law that makes this case a crime, there should be (although there are just enough mitigating issues surrounding this case that there is a chance that this case would not quite violate a properly written law).
  • No Criminal Intent (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Greyfox (87712) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @07:38PM (#33283244) Homepage Journal
    Never attribute to Evil what can be explained by stupidity (or incompetence)
  • by Darth Muffin (781947) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @07:49PM (#33283346) Homepage
    Terry Childs didn't have any criminal intent either, and he caused a lot less harm. Look where that got him... I no longer have any faith in the "justice" system.
    • Terry Childs didn't have any criminal intent either, and he caused a lot less harm. Look where that got him... I no longer have any faith in the "justice" system.

      The corollary here will be if the school system somehow manages to blame the students for this. I wouldn't put it past them to try (or the legal system to let them get away with it.)

  • This is only tangentially related, but my two laptops both have LEDs next to the camera that go on when they're in use (MSI netbook and ThinkPad -- plus, I believe all recent Macs have this as well). Is this implemented at the driver- or hardware level? "modinfo uvcvideo" suggests that it's not a user-configurable parameter (though I haven't looked at any source).

    Now, if the hardwire kept these LEDs on for, say, a minute after the camera was used (change the colour so it's not confusing), it would make thi
    • by Ziktar (196669) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @08:01PM (#33283432)

      The students did detect this. They saw the light blinking on and off, and reported it. These claims were dismissed as something wrong with the light. Of course, the fact that the claims were dismissed by the very group of people who could be taking the pictures should have made it seem a bit suspicious...

      • by ScrewMaster (602015) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @08:15PM (#33283550)

        The students did detect this. They saw the light blinking on and off, and reported it. These claims were dismissed as something wrong with the light. Of course, the fact that the claims were dismissed by the very group of people who could be taking the pictures should have made it seem a bit suspicious...

        Not to mention the fact that would have been a heck of a lot of laptops with the exact same "malfunction."

  • by roman_mir (125474) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @07:54PM (#33283382) Homepage Journal

    don't you feel that you are living in an increasingly a police state, where the cops' and generally the government actions are always above the law and justified and the citizens actions are more and more criminalized?

    • don't you feel that you are living in an increasingly a police state, where the cops' and generally the government actions are always above the law and justified and the citizens actions are more and more criminalized?

      No, not at all, not in the least. Why would you say that?

      (Geez, buddy, shut the fuck up, you're gonna get us all disappeared.)

  • Deciding to spy on the students was the criminal intention. This is the same old story. The law applies only to certain people and not others. If justice were at hand the case would be decided just as if some private person had decided to spy on the kids.

  • the FBI is way to busy being the butt boys for the RIAA. They don't have time to fiddle with some as mundane as school officials violating laws so lets just declare "we found no criminal intent" and sweep it under the rug. Of course we will never really know the full details for the basis the FBI used.

    My favorite;

    Memeger says he decided to make Tuesday's announcement to close the matter before the start of the school year.

    Yeah, lets not have a school being sued while school is in session... nice excuse.

  • The fail guy is likely to low to be able to pin it him.

    Say they pin it on some tech and try to though the book at him child porn and all but do go after the higher ups who did calm to have used the phots even when the assistant principal used them over the fake drugs thing.

    They can't go after the higher ups and the lower guys likely did not even have the choice over the software that was being used.

    But the law suit likely will bring out cool info about all of this.

  • by mykos (1627575) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @08:04PM (#33283442)
    Recording children in their rooms without anyone's consent:
    Not wiretapping

    Recording the police on the job in a traffic stop at a public location:
    Wiretapping

    Source: http://www.wusa9.com/news/local/story.aspx?storyid=102616&catid=187 [wusa9.com]
    • by bws111 (1216812)

      Yes, that is correct. From US Code Title 18.2510 [cornell.edu]:

      (1) “wire communication” means any aural transfer made in whole or in part through the use of facilities for the transmission of communications by the aid of wire, cable, or other like connection between the point of origin and the point of reception (including the use of such connection in a switching station) furnished or operated by any person engaged in providing or operating such facilities for the transmission of interstate or foreign commu

    • by Attila Dimedici (1036002) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @10:03PM (#33284394)
      First of all this article is about federal law, the wiretapping law cases you are referencing are about state laws. Additionally, you are wrong, Pennsylvania judges have consistently ruled that recording the police in the performance of their duty is not a violation of Pennsylvania's wiretapping law (which is an all parties consent law), since the police do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy when they are on duty (one of the deciding factors in whether or not you need someone's consent to record them under PA law).
      We have yet to see what decision will be made by the various state prosecutors on this case. If this case was in Maryland on the other hand there is reason to believe you would be correct.
  • to covertly take pictures of teenagers in their bedrooms, but not okay to openly record abusive police actions in public.

    Something is seriously wrong.

  • Union (Score:4, Insightful)

    by kenp2002 (545495) on Wednesday August 18, 2010 @06:18AM (#33286188) Homepage Journal

    Wait the federal government won't prosecute a bunch of union, jack boot gestapo perverts from the Teacher's Union? No really? In Philly? Why piss off your largest voting block? Makes perfect sense. I don't know about Philly but the first question to ask is "Is this DA elected and did he have the teacher's union endorsement?"

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