February 22, 2010

Spying on students through their required laptops.

"What's the purpose of shutting down a camera for the user of the laptop but still making it available to network administrators? Ask yourself: if you wanted to convince someone that a webcam blinking was a glitch, would disabling the cameras help make your case?"

Much detail at the link.

32 comments:

A Lawyer Mom's Musings said...

Completely creepy. I saw a blurb about this on Fox tonight.

But this fellow's excellent blog post makes it fairly apparent that the school's remote webcam activation was no accident. And the school's explanation -- that it was only "turning on" stolen computers? Completely implausible. (Take a look at some of the students' comments)

Julius Ray Hoffman said...

That blog post deserves a Pulitzer.

And, in general, the outrage around this issue is beautiful to behold. It easily could have been brushed off by the media as just a bunch of kids overreacting, assisted by a plaintiff's lawyer. Thankfully, that didn't happen. The media, backed up by the blogs, has actually got some teeth – keep 'em sharp, guys!

MadisonMan said...

I confess I originally was not so gung-ho to cast stones at the school district.

Hearing that the students had to use these computers, were threatened if they didn't, etc. is changing my mind very quickly. I'll be interested to see how this creepiness is resolved.

Lem said...

You would think the vendor that wrote the program would have warned a big client like a school as to the potential liabilities.

If this is true that whole school administration, not just the IT administrators, should get the boot.. and maybe even jail for the violators.

kentuckyliz said...

That IT guy looks like a purve.

AJ Lynch said...

I guess it is easier to spend $29K per student when you spring for a laptop for every high schooler.

wv = unhappe = yes I am not happy to be paying taxes in this school district

David said...

Just how dumb are these students who said they could not disable the webcam?

How about a piece of tape?

I also notice a failure of imagination.

Once you know that they are watching, the possibilities of what you can amaze them with are endless.

Methadras said...

David said...

Just how dumb are these students who said they could not disable the webcam?


Computer literacy at this point is fairly bad, even in 2010. Most people have a very simplistic view of technology in that, they can run an OS, but only minimally. They have no desire to get into the nuts and bolts of the OS because for the most part it's been glossed over by a nice looking GUI. Even disabling a webcam driver might be asking some if not a lot of these users to drill to deep into a knowledge base they do not have nor want to have. So while it might be a view that says that these people might be dumb, I don't think they are, they just don't have the totality of knowledge to do what you think would be easy for you or even me.

How about a piece of tape?

That would in essence be tampering with school property which would at the point of camera activation would illicit two possible reactions:

a) That the webcam is broken and therefore would have the student who legally is authorized to use it bring the laptop back for checking the camera out, would find that the camera actually works and is given back the camera, only to have it taped up again, which would then tip off the admin that this is what's going on. Busted.

or

b) The admin would know that the camera is taped off and would therefore be a violation of EULA/TOS (terms of service) and the student would face either reprimand or process for suspension/expulsion.

I also notice a failure of imagination.

You need to clarify this statement. I don't understand it.

Once you know that they are watching, the possibilities of what you can amaze them with are endless.

It appears that many of the students did not know that they were being watched. The whole thing was blown open when a male student was called into a VP's office and confronted with what the VP called 'inappropriate behavior' in the form of a snap shot taken in his home with the state-school issued webcam. What was that 'inappropriate behavior' you ask? Eating Mike & Ike candies out of a box. So I wonder what you can amaze these state school employees with that can and will be used against you as a student in your own home.

The bottom line is this and I wrote on the blog earlier today because I am very interested in this story from many points of view; as a computer user, as a father, as a citizen concerned for the ever encroaching role that government sees fit to take in our daily lives, and as a warrior against fascist tyranny in the form of entitled state school administrators and board members who believe that the sanctity of a US citizens home is something they can breach at any time and at anywhere simply because their temporary ward of the state (a child during school hours) has been by force given a state issued laptop and installed into their home to be used as a spy tool against him/her and anyone else in the private confines of their parents home.

This is one of the egregious acts of the disruption of privacy I've seen in years from a government against it's citizens. The only one that comes close is the fed admitting to allowing the NSA/FBI to go outside of its purview to snoop on suspected citizens working with known terrorists using phone records. This is bad on all sorts of levels. If this is happening in lily white Lower Merion high school in Pennsylvania, then where else is this occurring?

Everyone involved in this should be fired, prosecuted, and jailed. From the IT admin all the way to the school board and superintendent of schools in that school district or anyone who knew about this and let it occur.

Peter V. Bella said...

The real question here is what right did the school have to discipline or bring up a student's behavior in his own home.

That is how they got caught. They never properly notified parents in advance that the cams could be turned on.

Now, they are claiming it was a security issue- to recover stolen laptops.

This is a big money school with major political connections. I would bet this all goes away with a nice quiet settlement. No criminal charges and no more bad publicity.

edutcher said...

Harriton is another Main Line school, like Lower Merion, but based in Rosemont, instead of Ardmore. Both are in Montgomery County, in the same district.

Remember that district in RI that fired all its union teachers? I'll bet the teachers union local is going to have a lot of vacancies soon.

AJ Lynch said...

Arlen Specter, Mr. Constitution himself, has a son who lives in this district. But I bet old Arlen keeps his wrinkled and ancient pie-hole shut on this civil rights excess.

Methadras said...

Peter V. Bella said...

The real question here is what right did the school have to discipline or bring up a student's behavior in his own home.

That is how they got caught. They never properly notified parents in advance that the cams could be turned on.

Now, they are claiming it was a security issue- to recover stolen laptops.

This is a big money school with major political connections. I would bet this all goes away with a nice quiet settlement. No criminal charges and no more bad publicity.


Peter, based on how the software is setup to use and was used, there is no reasonable way that the VP or the district can explain this one away. The feds are already conducting their investigation and if they deem that all is well, then you are going to see some serious outrage and hopefully action over this. Damage control is already in full effect, the spin that this was to recover stolen laptops falls flat on it's face when you have the exact thing that this VP did to this student. Sort of kills his case, you know?

Methadras said...

AJ Lynch said...

Arlen Specter, Mr. Constitution himself, has a son who lives in this district. But I bet old Arlen keeps his wrinkled and ancient pie-hole shut on this civil rights excess.


That cancer-ridden, weezening, turn-coat fool can't join Murtha fast enough.

John Lynch said...

I'd tape over the lens and then format the hard drive and reinstall the OS. Fuck them. Either it's my computer, or it's not.

AJ Lynch said...

Methadras:

I won't go that far- I'll behappy when he is retired.

FYI- this school district is peopled by some of the most anal, ambitious, selfish, hovering group of parents in the country. They overspend [as I said $29K per sudent]and the school board meetings are 4-5 hours of contentious gatherings [most board members are lawyers] and most of the parents think they can arrange it so Little Junior has a perfect, untroubled life [these are the kind of people who ruined little league by deciding it was cruel to keep score].

They over-analyze everything and complicate everything and no one is happy with the board decisions.

Good schools though - but to be fair the parents are accomplished, affluent and smarter than the average American. So less garbage in = less garbage out in terms of the average student.

EDH said...

What next, fasten a bar of soap on a rope to the computer and mandate that the students only shower with that bar of soap?

What a great use of the word "panopticon."

Peter V. Bella said...

Methadras,
Money talks and bullshit walks. The school will be let off. The FBI is involved due to the controversy. If the school district quietly settles with the parents in return for no civil or criminal charges, the FBI will be pissing up a rope. No US Attorney will prosecute a case with a predetermined settlement. It will not fly.

That is how people get away with violating civil rights.

Methadras said...

Peter, you are probably right, but for me this is one of those glaring moments where you know utter wrongness was committed on a level that affects all of us and yet lawyers will find a way to fuck it. Again.

Revenant said...

Hearing that the students had to use these computers, were threatened if they didn't, etc. is changing my mind very quickly.

I second that view.

MarkW said...

Just how dumb are these students who said they could not disable the webcam?

If you read the article, you'd know that one kid DID do that and, he claims, was almost expelled--even though there was initially no rule against it.

How about a piece of tape?

Also if you read the article, you'd know that a few students DID put tape over the webcam lens because they feared the school might be spying on them. Other students thought those kids were being paranoid.

Whenever the a student asked about the web-cam light coming on occasionally, the school lied to them and told them it was a 'glitch'.

AllenS said...

The schools were just looking to see how many guns were in the house.

MadisonMan said...

I'll be happy when he is retired

I hope that's your state of mind for any politician.

DaveW said...

When I read a story like this I try to put myself in the mind of the people that set this up (the school administrators). I'm having a lot of trouble getting into a spot where I understand why they'd even consider doing something like this.

I could rant all day on this one. Did they not understand that by sending these kids home with these computers they were spying on whole families? How many casual flashes of nudity were being captured?

Unbelievable. What in the world were they thinking?

damikesc said...

Shit like this is why nobody trusts the government..because they give you lots of reasons to distrust them.

prairie wind said...

Mike and Ike's?

Joe said...

The next story to emerge from this: that the IT admin was really trying to see teenage girls undressed.

Joe said...

http://www.justborn.com/mike-and-ike

Big Mike said...

What I'd like to know is how many of the young female students who undressed for bed in front of their laptop are going to find themselves posted on the Internet? Kind of makes the potential for misuse pretty obvious all of a sudden, doesn't it?

What's needed is not some quiet settlement to make things go away. What's needed is for the school district and the local teacher's union to (members of which apparently were in on it) to cough up a few hundred million for emotional distress.

mariner said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
mariner said...

Let's get realistic, people.

The perps are leftist government types -- the only people who should be trusted to make decisions for all of us because they know better.

There will be no jail time, there will be no fines, there will be no serious consequences for any of them.

They were just doing what bureaucrats and cops would all love to do if given the chance -- for the children, of course.

PatCA said...

I bet that's why the homies stole all the taxpayer-funded laptops in our local grade school. They're just freedom fighters.

Roux said...

I bet I can fix this with a small piece of black electrical tape.