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Federal Judge Orders Schools To Stop Laptop Spying 359

CWmike writes "A federal judge on Monday ordered the Pennsylvania school district accused of spying on its students to stop activating the cameras in school-issued MacBook laptops. According to the original complaint, Blake Robbins was accused by a Harriton High School assistant principal of 'improper behavior in his home' and shown a photograph taken by his laptop as evidence. In an appearance on network television last Saturday, Robbins said he was accused by the assistant principal of selling drugs and taking pills — but he claimed the pictures taken by his computer's camera showed him eating candy. Also on Monday, the company selling the software used by the school district to allegedly spy on its students blasted what it called laptop theft-recovery 'vigilantism.'" jamie found two posts from stryde.hax pointing out suggestive information about one school district network administrator, and coaching students how to determine if their school-issued laptops were infected with the LANRev software used to operate the cameras remotely and in secret.
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Federal Judge Orders Schools To Stop Laptop Spying

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  • by Fluffeh ( 1273756 ) on Tuesday February 23, 2010 @07:24PM (#31252450)

    why isn't this... criminally actionable under peeping Tom laws? Probably other laws too.

    Because it was done on a computer. thus laws from the normal world don't apply.

    Now that a judge has sided with the rest of the world that uses it's brains to choose right and wrong, I wouldn't be at all surprised if a class action lawsuit pops in. I dare say that many onlookers and also people involved would have been looking at this as a litmus test to see what the judicial reaction is. The judicial system has clearly said "This is a no-no!". As far as I can see, this is a green light for the "Well, you did wrong, now make it right with a bundle of cash" for those with the laptops etc.

    * Side note: Stop putting half a sentence in the damned heading and finish it in the body. It's bloody annoying to quote.

  • by jeko ( 179919 ) on Tuesday February 23, 2010 @07:36PM (#31252610)


    " district employees, including the superintendent, Christopher McGinley, ... making 'loud speaker announcements to all students allegedly commenting on the litigation, making false and untrue accusations [and] disparaging the Plaintiffs.'"

    Who doesn't understand that once the lawyers get involved, you shut the Hell up? What is wrong with these people?

  • by sconeu ( 64226 ) on Tuesday February 23, 2010 @07:38PM (#31252626) Homepage Journal

    There already is a class action suit filed [].

  • FTFA:

    The school district must also preserve all electronic evidence, including any photographs taken by remotely activated laptop cameras.

  • Re:Camera question (Score:5, Informative)

    by fred fleenblat ( 463628 ) on Tuesday February 23, 2010 @07:49PM (#31252780) Homepage

    "blame the victim" doesn't fly in any US court.
    it *really* doesn't fly when the victims are children.

  • Re:Camera question (Score:5, Informative)

    by tftp ( 111690 ) on Tuesday February 23, 2010 @08:10PM (#31253034) Homepage

    1. Why didn't these people see the green light next to the camera?

    Some did. As the comment above explains, some even asked the school what's going on, and the school replied (lied, as it seems) that it's nothing to see here, move along.

    2. Why didn't they cover the camera with a little electrical tape?

    Some did. Majority, though, didn't - in part because they never noticed the light and in part because they were assured by the school that there is nothing to worry about.

    It would be perfectly reasonable for a long-time /. reader, to smell the rat. But it is just as reasonable for a school student who is not a geek to not realize what may be happening. The students were also required to accept and use those laptops, and many would be rightfully afraid that any attempt to mess with them would result in expulsion, execution on the spot, or worse.

  • Re:So what? (Score:5, Informative)

    by hduff ( 570443 ) <> on Tuesday February 23, 2010 @09:07PM (#31253748) Homepage Journal

    Wow look what happened, the school got in trouble. Here's how you figure out if the software is installed, on Windows just look in the registry with regedit, on Mac just use the terminal, if you can't do either because you don't know how then log off facebook and get some real skills that will serve you in life.

    I realize this is Slashdot, but RTFA or STFU before you log off MySpace and attempt to get modded 'insightful' here.

    Admins disabled the terminal. Students are disciplined severely for jail-breaking the laptop. None of the laptops ran Windows. What's your next tech comment, Senator Stevens?

  • Re:This is absurd (Score:5, Informative)

    by element-o.p. ( 939033 ) on Tuesday February 23, 2010 @09:28PM (#31253980) Homepage
    Assistant Principle Masko, is that you? Either that, or you simply don't know what you are talking about.

    I know this is /. and jumping to half-baked conclusions on the basis of others' comments is a time-honored tradition here, but from TFA's:


    That establishes the context -- the photo was taken in the student's home. As for how it came to be in the school's hands, I see two options: either the student provided the photo himself or the school snapped the photo. If the student provided the photo himself, then what lawyer would even consider filing a class-action lawsuit? Furthermore, this article [] states, "On Friday, Christopher McGinley, the superintendent of Lower Merion, sent another letter to district parents, acknowledging that the district had turned on laptop cameras 42 times thus far in the 2009-2010 school year." However, even if the school district never turned on the camera in a single student's laptop, they still deserve to be run through the wringer:

    The Robbins...added that there was no mention of the functionality [the ability for the school district to turn on the web cam remotely] in any of the documentation they received or on the district's Web site. []

    And the privacy of non-students has been violated, the Robbins said. "By virtue of the fact that the Webcam can be remotely activated at any time by the School District, the Webcam will capture anything happening in the room in which the laptop computer is located, regardless of whether the student is sitting at the computer and using it," the lawsuit charged.

    Sorry, your "fixed that for you" is dead wrong. The evidence at this point strongly supports that the school district f****d up and is now (rightly) being called on the carpet for it.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 23, 2010 @09:54PM (#31254224)

    Arrest That Girl! She's Writing On Her Desk!

    "I love my friends Abby and Faith. Lex was here 2/1/10 :)." Alexa Gonzalez penned these words on her desk with a lime-green magic marker, and then added a smiley face. She was bored, waiting for her Spanish teacher to hand back homework at the beginning of class. Shortly after her doodling, the 12-year-old was arrested.

    Alexa, a seventh grader at Junior High School 190 in Forest Hills, New York, suspected that there would be some repercussions for her actions, but she was not ready for the handcuffs and the walk across the street to the police precinct. Worse yet, she was hauled out of her classroom, hands cuffed behind her back, in full view of her teachers and of course her classmates.

    I don't know exactly how this could have happened, but I can only assume that Alexa's Spanish teacher called the principal, who decided that doodling on a desk is a criminal offense, and that an arrest needed to be made. Alexa was detained for several hours at the police precinct, and eventually allowed to leave. (I wonder what questions they asked her during the lengthy interrogation?). Although she had a stellar attendance record, she has not returned to school since. "She's been throwing up," said her mom. "The whole situation has been a nightmare."

    "We're looking at the facts," says City Education Department spokesman David Cantor. "Based on what we've seen so far, this shouldn't have happened." Police spokesman Paul Browne added, "Even when we're asked to make an arrest, common sense should prevail, and discretion used in deciding whether an arrest or handcuffs are really necessary." So, the authorities made a mistake. That's understandable, once in a while.

    But this is not an isolated case. Alexa is only the latest in a series of New York students to be arrested for a minor infraction. Possibly the most famous is 13-year-old Chelsea Fraser, arrested in 2007 for writing "Okay" on her desk at Intermediate School 201. Others include 5-year-old Dennis Rivera, who in 2008 was placed in handcuffs and sent to a psych ward after misbehaving in kindergarten, and a 12-year-old who was arrested in March 2009 for doodling on her desk at the Hunts Point School.

    Across the country, there are plenty more examples of teens and preteens being arrested for seemingly minor offences. In November 2009, a food fight at a middle school in Chicago led to the arrests of 25 students, some as young as 11, according to the Chicago Police Department. And at least 12,000 tickets were issued to tardy or truant students by Los Angeles Police Department and school security officers in 2008. The Strategy Center, a California-based civil rights group that tracks zero tolerance policies, opposes this system. "The theory is that if we fine them, then they won't be late again," says
    spokesman Manuel Criollo. "But they just end up not going to school at all."

    This is not just about zero tolerance policies gone awry. It's about wilful cruelty to young people, at the hands of the very people who are supposed to be protecting them. When did zero tolerance become zero intelligence? ..........These cases include students being suspended or expelled for transgressions such as possession of ibuprofen (a legal, non-prescription drug commonly used to treat menstrual cramps and headaches) with permission of the students' parents, keeping pocketknives (small utility knife) in cars, and carrying sharp tools outside of a woodshop classroom (where they are often required materials)......

    * After bringing a Cub Scouts dinner knife to school to eat his lunch, a six-year-old boy was ordered by Christina School District to attend an alternative school for students with behavioral problems for nine weeks.....
    * A third-grade girl, also in the Christina School District, was expelled for a year because her grandmother sent a birthda

  • Re:This is absurd (Score:3, Informative)

    by SkeeZerD ( 972760 ) on Tuesday February 23, 2010 @09:56PM (#31254236)
    Actually I believe a judge can order an action stopped which they think may be illegal until the outcome is decided at trial.
  • by belmolis ( 702863 ) <billposer.alum@mit@edu> on Tuesday February 23, 2010 @10:17PM (#31254386) Homepage

    The school district certainly is the government. The story is about a public school district, which is part of the state government. It is funded by the state and its employees are government employees. It is legally a government entity for purposes such as constitutional litigation. If what you meant was that the school district is not a law enforcement agency, that's true, but concerns about invasion of privacy and improper search by the government are not limited to law enforcement agencies.

  • Helpful link (Score:3, Informative)

    by MaskedSlacker ( 911878 ) on Tuesday February 23, 2010 @11:05PM (#31254836) []

The optimum committee has no members. -- Norman Augustine