Does your school district issue laptops to its students? If the laptop has a webcam, you should probably cover it up just in case. You never know who might be looking. Sound far fetched? Not so. A Pennsylvania family discovered that the webcam on their son’s school-issued laptop can be activated remotely by administrators, who could then watch what the student was doing and even take pictures. How did they find out? Their son’s vice-principal apparently disciplined him because of “improper behavior”, but that behavior occurred while he was in his own home. Proof of this improper behavior came in the form of an image taken with the webcam on his laptop, and the vice-principal has readily admitted they have the ability to do such a thing. I’ll let the implications of that sink in for a moment. The privacy violations going on here are off the chart. Regardless of whether the district owned those laptops or not, it does not give them the right to spy on students in their own homes, especially without informing the parents that this was a possibility. I’m pretty dubious about the legality of spying on kids on school property, but that may fall under the heading of wrong without actually being illegal. Spying on the kids within their homes has got to be a major violation. While it’s not clear what the child was recorded doing, the lawsuit, which is seeking class action status on behalf of all students who were spied upon, asserts that:
As the laptops at issue were routinely used by the students, their friends, and family members while at home, it is believed and therefore averred that many of the webcam images captured and/or intercepted consist of minors and/or their parents in compromising or embarrassing positions, including, but not limited to, in various stages of undress.
Also, since when do school administrators have the right to discipline kids for things they do at home? Unless it involves not doing their homework, it’s not really the school’s business, is it? I am all for ensuring kids get an education that incorporates technology as they’ll certainly need it in order to succeed in life. I applaud schools issuing laptops, and I’m sure those laptops have to include some protections so that students don’t abuse or misuse them. But the Lower Merion School District went way too far here. I really hope the parents win the lawsuit. Read the text of the lawsuit. (via Cory Doctorow’s Craphound.com) Via Newser and Consumerist Update: according to one of the students from that school district, kids did notice the green lights next to the iSight cameras on their school-issued MacBooks coming on, but the school told them this was a glitch. Another student claimed that an IT department worker admitted it was possible for the administration to look through their webcams but it would “violate the fifth amendment” and thus they did not do it. Whether the IT guy or the student confused the correct amendment (the first amendment applies), it’s clear that someone knew this spying was wrong and illegal. If the first student is right, someone at the school took the extra step of lying about what they were up to. And these trustworthy people are in charge of education in that district? The students have definitely learned something, that’s for sure. Via Gizmodo.