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Education Portables Privacy

Lower Merion School District Update 367

Mike_EE_U_of_I and jargon82 were among a number of readers who sent an update on the Lower Merion School District webcam spying case (see Related Stories for our discussions of the affair over the last couple of months). The school had originally stated that capturing laptop photos in students' homes had only happened 42 times. It turns out what they meant was that there were 42 instances when they began intensive surveillance on the suspected stolen computers. This consisted of (among other things) transmitting a picture from the laptop's webcam every 15 minutes. This may have gone on for weeks. In total, it appears that there were thousands of photos. One of the key administrators involved has been answering all questions about the program by invoking the Fifth Amendment.
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Lower Merion School District Update

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  • Lightbulb? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MozeeToby ( 1163751 ) on Friday April 16, 2010 @12:57PM (#31873620)

    One of the key administrators involved has been answering all questions about the program by invoking the Fifth Amendment.

    No doubt he was instructed by his lawyer to do so. At least this means that the 'Oh Shit' lightbulb has finally gone off in someones head, someone finally is realizing that this could very easily end up with jail time and a spot on the sex offenders registry.

  • by PPH ( 736903 ) on Friday April 16, 2010 @01:15PM (#31873858)

    But what it does is protect her superiors. Do you really think that this was undertaken solely on the initiative of one admin?

    She'll plead the Fifth, the prosecution will figure that there are bigger fish to be had and offer her immunity or a reduced sentence in return for testimony that will incriminate the others.

  • by Sir_Lewk ( 967686 ) < minus herbivore> on Friday April 16, 2010 @01:26PM (#31873996)

    Or the third option: "You may or may not be guilty of another crime, and talking may incriminate you if you are."

  • by poena.dare ( 306891 ) on Friday April 16, 2010 @01:28PM (#31874020)

    "Deep" doesn't even begin to cover it. Read the Philly articles if you haven't. Massive Collective Stupidity by Adults that Should have Known Better!

    Jon Stewart's got at least a weeks worth of material to joke about here.

  • In the US, Schools are tasked with the impossible job of trying to please parents, who are also voters, and who are also incredibly rude and stupid about what they think is right for their kids. And what happens is that if you DON'T take action, then you get sued anyway!

    Drugs? Zero tolerance because some parents and all politicians have zero tolerance, even for aspirin! Someone wrote the rule that way because some crazy person pushed it.

    Gays at the prom? Because there is no equal protection under the law for gays, and too many people in american society still view gay relationships as evil. Allowing gays in the right conservative school district will get you just as sued.

    Computer survellience? Well for this one there simply is no excuse. Someone obviously didn't do their homework and thought it was a good idea and forgot to check where the legal line crossed. This example is not like the others because the first two are more about social values in those areas and this is clearly a breach in well established law.

    And don't forget these people are voted into office, and they are of the people and by the people. They are politicians as well, and if someone wants them to do something or risk being voted out, well this is how it works when the law isn't more clearly spelled out.

    Then again, sometimes parents have an attack of sanity, like the Dover, PA case where the old school board tried to implement intelligent design, and they were voted out en masse the next election and the curriculum was scrapped.

  • Re:Suspected stolen? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by 99BottlesOfBeerInMyF ( 813746 ) on Friday April 16, 2010 @01:32PM (#31874084)
    quote>Did these laptops have rules stating that they were never permitted to leave the school grounds?

    No. Kids were allowed and encouraged to take the laptops home, but they claim one of the students in question did not pay the insurance fee required, so that gave them permission to use it to spy on him. They refused to answer with regard to the other 41 instances whether those students had reported the laptop stolen or not paid the insurance fee in question.

    If the students WERE permitted to take the laptops home (other articles I have read implied they were), then under what criteria were these laptops suspected stolen?

    The short answer, they did not suspect they were stolen, that's just a justification they're trying to use after the fact. If they had suspected the laptop of being stolen they would have contacted the parents and told them their kid had stolen a laptop instead of telling them their kid was being expelled for doing drugs at home. They would likewise have contacted the other 41 parents and told them their kids had taken the laptop when they weren't supposed to. It's quite clear at this point (at least to me) that the administrators did not consider the kids privacy at all and used the laptops for entertainment and to spy on kids in the hopes they could catch them doing something "bad".

  • by 0100010001010011 ( 652467 ) on Friday April 16, 2010 @01:47PM (#31874304)

    Never Talk To Police. [] It's 27 minutes. There aren't many visuals so you can listen to it in the background.

    Basically NEVER TALK to police. Just don't. If you do have to say something let it be along the lines of: "Am I under arrest or am I free to go", "Do you have a warrant".

    I was once arrested. AFTER being read my rights one cop kept pressing the issue. "What were you doing, why were you there" over and over and over. After the 4th time I asked him to please read me my rights again. Which he did. But he continued to ask. At which point I told him I was invoking my right to remain silent. He still pressed the issue.

    This was brought up in court and helped my case, since it was seen as 'badgering'.

  • If you ever hear the phrase 'sovereign individuals,' run. Run away, as fast as you can. You are in the presence of either a moronic patsy or a dangerous con artist. Do not fall for this scam. You will lose money, and perhaps go to jail yourself for attempting to follow the ludicrous and expensive instructions for becoming this imaginary thing called a 'sovereign individual.' Please read this: []

  • by Fished ( 574624 ) <> on Friday April 16, 2010 @01:59PM (#31874504)
    In our society, men are terrified of being accused of sexual predation, and we steer clear of it. We know where the lines are, and we know we can be accused at any time. Maybe this administrator just wasn't as aware because, after all, she's a she and nobody would ever think that she would use the camera for illicit purposes! Seriously, the reason why that stereotype is there is because, on a whole, men tend to be more interested in pornographic images. Maybe part of the problem here is that, in the female dominated world of education, no man ever saw this policy and said, "uh, ladies... you do realize what people could use these cameras for, right?"
  • Re:Suspected stolen? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by nobodyman ( 90587 ) on Friday April 16, 2010 @02:02PM (#31874536) Homepage

    The students were, in fact, allowed to leave school grounds. And part of the problem here is that the criteria for them determining whether the laptop was "stolen" seemed really fragile.

    I can't find the article now, but one of the IT guys for the district was recorded in a presentation (where he was praising the program) that one of the laptop's owners connected to their neighbor's WiFi, rather than their own network (I'm assuming that students needed to register their router's mac address). Anyway, the software detected this as laptop theft, the school reported it stolen, and the police worked with the local ISP to get the address of the neighbor and searched the neighbors house .

    As more details about this story come forward, I am increasingly amazed that this program made it past the idea-stage. You'd think at least *one* person in the chain-of-command would have some common sense.

  • by eleuthero ( 812560 ) on Friday April 16, 2010 @02:03PM (#31874552)
    The problem is, they were apparently 1) tracking stolen school equipment and 2) used on board hardware to help with tracking. This strikes me as genius rather than stupidity. From the actual article (not the blog),

    The district has said it turned on the camera in Robbins' computer because his family had not paid the $55 insurance fee and he was not authorized to take the laptop home.

    The student stole the laptop. There should be no expectation for privacy from the stolen device. If someone steals my phone, I want the phone company, the police, whoever, to record the calls, to take pictures of the location, to track internet activity and check the gps of the phone. This is reasonable. As a school teacher, this is reasonable. What would be unreasonable is if this were a situation where the software were activated without this setting.

  • Re:Lightbulb? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by poetmatt ( 793785 ) on Friday April 16, 2010 @02:18PM (#31874748) Journal

    they still can anyway.

    I believe there are ways you can be asked to answer questions anyway, right? Such as when the evidence is presented? Or is that when they can put you in for contempt of court?

    I'm not a lawyer so maybe someone else can help clarify, but I thought fifth amendment has situations where you can't simply invoke it?

  • by poena.dare ( 306891 ) on Friday April 16, 2010 @02:18PM (#31874764)

    I'd laugh, but my son (14) is in a new public school this year and I have discovered I have literally enrolled him in what can only be described as a war zone - on top of which the Good Guys are frighteningly stupid, reactionary, and hidebound.

  • by natehoy ( 1608657 ) on Friday April 16, 2010 @02:49PM (#31875216) Journal

    OK, let's go with that for a second. The school apparently did have some reason to believe that the laptop was stolen, since the student's parents didn't pay an insurance fee that was supposed to authorize the kid to take the laptop home.

    However, the laptop was issued to that student. So the correct answer would have been to call the student's parents at home and ask if the laptop is there, and request that payment be rendered for the insurance fee if the kid wants to take it home again, please and thanks.

    Someone at the school instead decided to turn on the camera. Fortunately for them, all they saw was the student fully dressed sitting in front of the computer eating something. They could have ended up getting a picture of an underage girl naked, possession of which is sufficient proof for child porn in the US and long frequent love sessions with Bubba, because Bubba likes child molesters and he gets lonely.

    OK, so they've gotten damned lucky so far. Laptop is obviously not stolen, and they didn't end up accidentally acquiring kiddie porn images. Best to delete all the images and sigh with relief, right?

    But, wait, what is that he's popping? Damn, that looks a lot like a bunch of pills. Let's call the parents in and accuse the kid of maybe taking illegal drugs, just in case the parents need to intervene. I mean, we're only trying to protect him, right? Yeah, let's call the parents in and show them the images, then explain how we go them.

    Oh, "Mike and Ike", you say? Oops, our bad. Please ignore our blatantly illegal violation of the privacy of your home, THINK OF THE CHILDREN!

    Yeah, behavior like that makes me think that someone was probably "thinking of the children", or at least their cute little bodies and hoping to "accidentally" get a juicy picture of one.

    I'm sure the person who did this did so with the best of intentions, but IT WAS STUPID. Actually, it started stupid and got worse, to the point of being criminally stupid, then just criminal.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 16, 2010 @04:12PM (#31876402)

    Think WHY male was assumed here. This case is about pictures of young kids possibly from cameras in their bedrooms.

    Read the tone and assumptions.

    1) the ones in trouble are male
    2) the ones being spied on are female

    Doesn't this seem like it's being ASSUMED that only men are sick enough to want to see pics of teens in their bedrooms?

    Yet we have complaints that assuming it's a filthy old man taking pics of little girls is male sexism...

  • by Jaysyn ( 203771 ) on Friday April 16, 2010 @04:21PM (#31876554) Homepage Journal


    Tracking stolen equipment is an excuse they came up with after they got caught with their hand in the cookie jar.

    Why didn't they discipline the student for theft instead of eating Ike & Mikes?

    Why didn't they take the laptop back from the kid when they realized that the insurance wasn't paid on it?

    Does the student *still* have the laptop in question?

    What about the other 41 incidences?

    Quit being so disingenuous.

  • by BitterOak ( 537666 ) on Friday April 16, 2010 @04:23PM (#31876582)

    Back when this story first broke, I was not at all convinced that school officials were spying on kids. One student had been suspended for alleged inappropriate activity captured by the camera and everyone immediately assumed it was the result of this surveillance system. The only statement the school made on the issue was that the photo had been taken by the student and left on the hard drive of the laptop when he returned it. To me, that seemed a lot more plausible, if less juicy. (After all, who wasn't excited by the thought of photos of horny high school kids in their bedrooms, and equally excited by the thought of school officials getting raked over the coals.)

    I saw this story [] earlier today and now I'm more convinced than ever the whole thing is BS. Look carefully at the photograph (provided by the parents, I might add.) Who goes to sleep with their laptop turned on and the camera pointed right at their face, so that it's perfectly centered in the frame and just well lit enough to show it clearly? If you've ever seen real photographs taken by peeping toms with hidden cameras, they're always grainy and show subjects in unflattering lighting conditions. This picture is just to perfect to be real.

    Generally speaking, when there's a lawsuit going on and one side says nothing to the press, citing that it would be imprudent to do so during proceedings, and the other site leaks all kinds of juicy stuff to the press, I tend to believe the party that shows discretion.

    As for the Fifth Amendment issue, as others have noted, it's standard practice when you're suspected of a crime to always invoke the 5th and say nothing before the trial. That's perfectly normal and doesn't mean anything at all.

Did you hear that two rabbits escaped from the zoo and so far they have only recaptured 116 of them?