Thursday, February 18, 2010

School used student laptop webcams to spy on them at school and home

This from Boing Boing:

According to the filings in Blake J Robbins v Lower Merion School District (PA) et al, the laptops issued to high-school students in the well-heeled Philly suburb have webcams that can be covertly activated by the schools' administrators, who have used this facility to spy on students and even their families.

The issue came to light when the Robbins's child was disciplined for "improper behavior in his home" and the Vice Principal used a photo taken by the webcam as evidence. The suit is a class action, brought on behalf of all students issued with these machines.
This from America's Right:

Lawsuit: PA School District Using School-Issued
Laptop Webcams to Spy on Students

A class action lawsuit filed late yesterday in Federal Court in Philadelphia has shed light on a secret surveillance program targeting Americans, but this particular operation is not being run by the FBI or the NSA. It’s being run by the Lower Merion School District, in the old-money Main Line suburbs of Philadelphia, PA.

The complaint, filed by minor high school student Blake Robbins and his parents, alleges that the school district has been spying on the activities of students and students’ families through the “indiscriminant use of and ability to remotely activate the webcams incorporated into each laptop issued to students,” all without the knowledge or consent of any of the students or parents involved.

Through a one-to-one laptop computer initiative funded by state and federal grants, each of the approximately 1,800 students in the school district’s two high schools, Harriton High School in Rosemont, PA and Lower Merion High School in Ardmore, PA were issued a webcam-equipped personal laptop computer. The initiative, according to remarks by Superintendent—and defendant—Christopher McGinley on the district’s Web site, “enhances opportunities for ongoing collaboration, and ensures that all students have 24/7 access to school based resources and the ability to seamlessly work on projects and research at school and at home.”

What students and parents did not know, however, was that the 24/7 access goes both ways. According to the complaint, nowhere in any of the documentation accompanying the laptops or otherwise disseminated to students and parents was
any reference made to the ability of the school district to remotely activate the webcam embedded in each laptop at any time, according to the district’s discretion.

How the capability was discovered should be enough to put any who value civil liberties and privacy on the edge of their seat...

The school district’s conduct, the plaintiffs allege, runs afoul of not only the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution, but also a laundry list of federal and state laws intended to protect the privacy of people and stored information alike. This includes the Electronic Communication Privacy Act, the Computer Fraud Abuse Act, the Stored Communications Act, §1983 of the Civil Rights Act, the Pennsylvania Wiretapping and Electronic Surveillance Act, and Pennsylvania common law as well....


Hall Monitor said...

This story made ! Check it out for all the crazy headlines from our schools.

Anonymous said...

Anyone know if school-issued computers in Kentucky have webcams?

How about those issued to teachers?

Was similar "security" software installed?

This technology could invade a lot more privacy than just students and their parents. Teachers could also be at risk.

Anonymous said...

I do know that computer usage is monitored by Stu Silberman if he is looking to terminate an employee. As a general rule, there must be cause, however.

For example, Michael Ernst, Director of Middle Schools, resigned after he sent inappropriate emails.