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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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  • thus laws from the normal world don't apply.
  • by Orbijx ( 1208864 ) * <( (at) (> on Tuesday February 23, 2010 @07:21PM (#31252404) Homepage Journal

    I'm almost a little surprised that the school wasn't being penalized for this beyond the "Don't turn on the cameras, teehee~" I'm seeing here.

    The concept of the technology makes sense -- get a visual of a thief using the stolen laptop. I'm okay with that. Wipe the Hard Drive on behalf of the customer's request if the unit is stolen and has information on it that shouldn't get out? Cool with me -- that's a feature people were able to buy on Dell's business laptops (Computrace, that is, with remote

    The student did not report the laptop as stolen, so there's no feasible reason to be turning on the camera.
    The school did not give birth to the student. There is no reason to monitor the student like a parent should.

    I'm happy to see that the hammer is starting to fall in favor of students using these units, but will the hammer hit the nail on the head?

    (Of note, I read the main article, but behind the corp walls of fire, I can't read some of the supporting articles and information.)

  • Wow. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Toonol ( 1057698 ) on Tuesday February 23, 2010 @07:31PM (#31252552)
    Normally, when I come across stories like this, I figure that there are two sides to the story, that the school or business didn't really behave as ridiculously as the accuser is describing. There's usually a certain amount of sensationalism to such stories.

    But in this case... the school really seems to be as stupid and as criminal as they first seemed, or MORE so. Every new piece of evidence is making it seem more and more like not only a screw-up, but that there should be some mass firings, if not jail time.
  • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Tuesday February 23, 2010 @07:32PM (#31252562) Homepage

    I'm almost a little surprised that the school wasn't being penalized for this beyond the "Don't turn on the cameras".

    This is just a preliminary injunction. The big legal hammer is being assembled and raised into hammering position. The school district is now in the very uncomfortable position of having the FBI, the Justice Department, and the ACLU all against them. Both Fox News and NPR are against them.

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

    by Em Emalb ( 452530 ) <> on Tuesday February 23, 2010 @07:33PM (#31252574) Homepage Journal

    The absurd part is that a frigging Federal Judge had to step in and order them to stop. You know, ordered them to stop something they shouldn't have been doing in the first damned place.


  • Camera question (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Imagix ( 695350 ) on Tuesday February 23, 2010 @07:38PM (#31252640)
    Two questions:
    1. Why didn't these people see the green light next to the camera?
    2. Why didn't they cover the camera with a little electrical tape?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 23, 2010 @07:49PM (#31252788)
    The stryde.hax writeup is enlightening and also terrifying. My initial theory, that this was all a scheme cooked up by a perverted IT "professional" in order to acquire a rich, on-demand source of child porn, is looking a lot more likely. If true, the IT admin, school board, and any administrators who approved the use of the technology should be tried under RICO statutes for conspiring to produce child pornography. These people should be imprisoned for life.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 23, 2010 @09:12PM (#31253800)
    (Disclaimer: The information route is someone who knows the boy pressing the lawsuit -> granddaughter -> my college prof -> me, so I can't vouch for full accuracy.)

    Lower Marion won some sort of grant, and they opted to spend it on laptops for the student body. The school owned the laptops, and allowed students to take the laptops home if they paid $80 a year; the justification for this was that the insurance for theft/loss would be covered by the fee. Basically, 24/7 access to the laptop had that fee, otherwise you pulled it from some sort of locked station (whether it was mobile or in a set location was not disclosed to me). Faculty would tally the laptops at the end of the day and would note if any were missing.

    If this IS true (again, I can't verify it personally), then it makes sense that the Principal would think it was stolen and would put forth appropriate measures- it would also match comments by someone high up at the school that it was only used for theft and "Interpret that as you like".

    However, a phone call would have sufficed ("Hello, did your son take his laptop home?", "Why yes, he did", "He didn't pay the fee (etc.)"). The monitoring software was NOT mentioned in any way, shape, or form, not even in a general "we can do whatever we want" clause. Additionally, the whole other sea of evidence (students claiming they were nearly expelled for disabling the software by reinstalling the OS) makes.

    Anyhow, the thing that surprised my prof- a computer ethics professor (might be getting a bit specific here. oh well!) - is that his granddaughter was completely in defense of it an ("I'm not doing anything wrong, so I have nothing to worry about"). I was completely flabbergasted when I first read about this. I can't believe the students aren't up in arms.
  • by fast turtle ( 1118037 ) on Tuesday February 23, 2010 @10:24PM (#31254466) Journal

    Anyhow, the thing that surprised my prof- a computer ethics professor (might be getting a bit specific here. oh well!) - is that his granddaughter was completely in defense of it an ("I'm not doing anything wrong, so I have nothing to worry about"). I was completely flabbergasted when I first read about this. I can't believe the students aren't up in arms.

    And that is exactly what is wrong with our Kids today. They don't get it and don't care about it until it bites them in the ass. By that time, it's to late to correct and so they'll simply keep givingtheir right to privacy and Habeas Corpus Away to any and everyone who wants it.

    I guess it's time to reinstitute slavery and give these idiots a chance to experience exactly what the American Civil War was all about.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 23, 2010 @10:33PM (#31254562)

    I'm a long-time Slashdot user (5-digit uid!) posting anonymous for obvious reasons: you can't say this stuff and attach your name to it. Also, I'm not trolling: if you'd like to disagree, point out why.

    Have you considered that the problem might be that some schools have less talented students?

    I know it's not politically correct to say this, but inner-city schools are predominantly full of minority children, and suburban schools are full of white ones. When you control for different demographics, the differences in performance between the two systems largely disappear. The theory that inner city schools simply have more children who are genetically predisposed to poor grades, poor attention, and poor behavior is the one that fits the data best. The idea that all children can excel is a fallacy. Really, people are born with a wide range of different talents, and some are simply not built to shine academically. We should just accept that fact and make the best of it. Disparity of outcome is not necessarily indicative of a disparity in opportunity: if we accept hereditary variations in ability, we explain a lot.

    You're probably thinking I'm some kind of bigoted skinhead, but nothing could be further from the truth. All people should be alike in dignity. Does the man with an IQ of 80 who gets up at six every morning to work in a factory deserve any less respect than I, a software developer, do? If anything, he works harder. How about soldiers, or construction laborers, or dockworkers, or any of other essential professions that do not require education and intelligence? They deserve respect too.

    But they don't receive that respect. The problem is that we've economically structured our society so that it is increasingly difficult to lead a dignified life without an exceptional mind. With the sole remaining path to dignity being intellectual pursuits, it's no wonder that schools benchmark themselves on the academic performance of their students. When we combine that trend with the tragically incorrect belief that all people are born with equal talents, we get to our current system of pumping ever-more money into "failing" schools and trying to force them one way or another into producing brilliant pupils. Of course that doesn't happen, which leads to a sense of shame, further "failing" grades, movement out of the city into the suburbs, and so on. You can't squeeze blood from a stone, and sometimes you have to realize that a stone is good too.

    So what would be my positive program to remedy the situation?

    1. Consolidate all school districts: suburban "good" schools are a self-reinforcing phenomenon. If we accept the heritability of intelligence, then parents who have the money to move to one of these districts are on average more intelligent and have more intelligent children, which boosts the performance ratings of the suburban "good" schools. That in turn attracts more intelligent parents in a cycle of gentrification. Consolidating school districts over a wide geographic areas eliminates this demographic distortion, and as a side effect, would allow now-larger districts to take advantage of massive economies of scale.
    2. Track students aggressively: within the now-larger districts, set up gifted and special needs schools and direct students to the appropriate program based on test results. That's the fairest way to ensure that everyone can develop on the way that best suits him. It's a lot more equitable than the system we have today: a genius born in the south side of Chicago will probably never use that talent, which is a tragedy for both him and society.
    3. Provide dignified non-intellectual jobs: this point plays into larger socioeconomic econohistorical factors, but there is no reason that the wealthiest nation on earth cannot find dignified positions for people of normal intellectual means. We need to restore domestic manufacturing, extraction, and construction industries for many reasons, not least of which is to give people who aren't built for a university a chance to lead a dignified life. When these positions are available, the pressure to attend college at all costs will be greatly ameliorated.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 23, 2010 @11:01PM (#31254792)

    As someone who's been out of grade school for over a decade I can tell you that the scary part isn't just THAT generation, it's THIS generation too. A whole shitload of kids who are now part of the myspace/twitter/other social websites have no comprehension of the possibilities they're giving to other people by allowing their personal information, be it pictures, address, age, interests, orientation, etc to be publicly disclosed by for-profit entities. And many of them seem to have no comprehension of the consequences of showing illegal or otherwise frowned upon personal activties on such sites. That all has acted as a transitory phase for the current generation where they've basically been told that 'privacy matters', but the definiton of privacy has changed to such a degree that what to older generations are obvious breaches of trust and privacy are in fact acceptable given the 'current situations' in (insert your state/locale/country). And honestly in regards to reinstituting slavery, I think you'd see far less people understanding what was wrong with it than should, or else a lot more people would have been making 'Boston Tea Party' references in the last 8-12 years regarding how laws and taxes have been handled in the US.

  • by Jason Levine ( 196982 ) on Tuesday February 23, 2010 @11:51PM (#31255196) Homepage

    My son's school definitely couldn't afford that. In fact, my son's school district is talking about cutting the art/music programs and closing two schools. Including the school my son is in which happens to be one of the highest performing school in the district. Of course, the fact that the superintendent is a temporary one who won't be around to deal with the fallout has *nothing* to do about it. (No, I'm not bitter.)

Today is a good day for information-gathering. Read someone else's mail file.