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

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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  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @08:31PM (#33283192)

    EG, Say I back out of my driveway, and back over the neighbor's toddler at 3am on the way to work. (WAY hypothetical)-- I in no way intended to hit said child, but if it dies as a result of my hitting it, it is vehicular manslaughter, regardless.

    Likewise, if you are using software to remote control the webcam of laptops that are intended to be in students' homes, neglect to inform parents of the practice, and end up "Accidentally" capturing pictures of students doing "Inappropriate" things, you have just crossed the line of decency, and theoretically could be charged with child porn (depending on what the teenagers photographed were up to at the time), based on the letter of the law. The law says not to take pictures of minors in states of undress (et al), it says nothing about intent.

    This is precisely why the "Sexting" issue is relevent with teenagers sending pics on cellphones.

    Gotta love double standards like that. If it had been an ordinary IT clerk, instead of a school system's policy, they would have faced serious prosecution, no ifs, ands, or buts. (except the kind on film..)

    I am curious to know how these prosecutors have come to this conclusion.

  • by jpapon ( 1877296 ) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @08:35PM (#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.

  • No Criminal Intent (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Greyfox ( 87712 ) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @08:38PM (#33283244) Homepage Journal
    Never attribute to Evil what can be explained by stupidity (or incompetence)
  • Re:Shuuut uuup (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @08:48PM (#33283322)

    Since it seems you were on vacation in LaLa land when the story this is about broke, let me be informative for you:

    Yes. The school activated the webcam in the laptops, when they were in student's homes. They did NOT deactivate the webcams when they discovered this fact. Instead, they continued to perform surveylence of the students, and even attempted to expel a student for "Inappropriate Conduct" involving eating Mike & Ike candies at his kitchen table. (School officials though the ginormous red candies were drugs.)

    It is a continuing problem with school officials (exacerbated by individuals like yourself who keep offering more surveylence powers and additional "outside the school" powers to public educators and their administration, rather than halting the slide down the slippery slope like everyone else wants.), in that they invoke their government granted powers of coersion^V^V^V "disciplinary discretion" in circumstances and venues far removed from the schoolyard and classrooms. For instance, a student can be expelled for being seen in his own yard, punching another kid, for "Fighting", if he is seen by a school administrator. This could be MILES away from a school zone. I have had school administrators brag to me about this before.

    Granted, I will agree with you that "When on school grounds, in a school building, in a classroom, Students should be doing School Work, and not looking at/posting pics of boobs on facebook using school equipment." However, the power to effectively enforce that does NOT require any sort of additional "Off grounds" powers, and any extension of such powers to administrators is an open invitation for abuse, given the total lack of arbitration or appeal processes available to students of public schools. (which creates a situation rife with abuse, in which students literally can do nothing about pathalogically officious school administrators. It is NOT a myth, they DO exist. EVERY school has them, and for this very reason.)

    Back to the issue of the student photographed eating Mike & Ikes at his own kitchen table; The authoritarian school system tried to expell him, and when evidence of secret "in the student's own home" surveylence came out, an inquiry was launched which turned up evidence that many other students had been similarly imaged by the project, and confiscated emails of school officials showed that they thought this "In the home" surveylence was "A good thing", "like our own soap opera."

    Next time, THINK before you support extention of powers and authority to an already notoriously corrupt/incompetent system, like our public school admin.

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

    by Martin Blank ( 154261 ) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @10:04PM (#33283914) Homepage Journal

    I would question that someone 'knew' that their actions would cause harm to others.

    The standard is usually "knew or should have known" -- you may not have known that the car was in gear before you tried to scare your friend by revving the engine as he walked in front of you, but you had the opportunity to check and should have done so prior to revving the engine.

  • by barberousse ( 1432239 ) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @10:24PM (#33284060)

    That judge is a retard. You should have asked if he knows every law on the books (civil, criminal, tax code, ...) In all likelihood, he doesn't. So if a judge can't be expected to know every law he might possibly break, how is it possible for a normal (non-lawyer) citizen?

  • by Attila Dimedici ( 1036002 ) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @10:54PM (#33284300)
    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).
  • by PPH ( 736903 ) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @11:14PM (#33284490)

    The bill of rights was always meant to limit the power of congress.

    And the other branches of the government as well.

    Plus, the 14th Amendment makes the Bill of Rights applicable to the States.

    The 'majority of the population' can always elect representatives to revise the bill of rights according to their wishes.

    Good luck with that. I don't think you'll find a 'majority' that wants to grant a special class of citizen immunity from the law. In spite of 'prosecutorial discretion' having been assumed by the courts (I don't believe there is a statute or article in the Constitution that grants it), its something that local politicians are usually embarrassed by. Its difficult to justify letting one person go free and throwing the book at the next one. Your 'majority' doesn't exist. Most people have an innate sense of justice.

"Hey Ivan, check your six." -- Sidewinder missile jacket patch, showing a Sidewinder driving up the tail of a Russian Su-27