"Lower Merion School District sued for cyber spying on students"
(This post is for those on my flist who aren't already in the know. All three of you. The rest of you: I know, I'm obsessed, but it was a slow work day. I had plenty of time to work myself up.)
The text from the article:
Lower Merion School District officials used school-issued laptop computers to illegally spy on students, according to a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court.
The suit, filed Tuesday, says unnamed school officials at Harriton High School in Rosemont remotely activated the webcam on a student's computer last year because the district believed he "was engaged in improper behavior in his home."
An assistant principal at Harriton confronted the student for "improper behavior" on Nov. 11 and cited a photograph taken by the webcam as evidence.
Michael E. and Holly S. Robbins, of Penn Valley, filed the suit on behalf of their son, Blake. They are seeking class action status for the suit.
The district has issued school-owned laptops to 2,290 high school students, starting last school year at Harriton, in an effort to promote more "engaged and active learning and enhanced student achievement," superintendent Christopher W. McGinley said in a message on the district website.
McGinley and school board president David Ebby did not respond to requests for comment.
In a statement on its website, the district said that "The laptops do contain a security feature intended to track lost, stolen and missing laptops. This feature has been deactivated effective today."
In a later statement, the district said: "Upon a report of a suspected lost, stolen or missing laptop, the feature was activated by the District's security and technology departments. The tracking-security feature was limited to taking a still image of the operator and the operator's screen. This feature has only been used for the limited purpose of locating a lost, stolen or missing laptop. The District has not used the tracking feature or web cam for any other purpose or in any other manner whatsoever."
When the computers were distributed to students, the district did not disclose that it could activate the cameras at any time, the suit alleges.
It claims the school district violated federal and state wiretapping laws and violated students' civil rights.
The suit also claims the district's use of the webcams amounted to an invasion of privacy and that any intercepted images could show "images of minors and their parents or friends in compromising or embarrassing positions, including, but not limited to, in various states of undress."
The lawsuit did not say what improper activity Blake Robbins was accused of, or what, if any, discipline resulted.
Virginia DiMedio, who was the Lower Merion district's technology director until she retired last summer, said that "if there was a report that a computer was stolen, the next time a person opened it up, it would take their picture and give us their IP [internet protocol] address - the location of where it was coming from." She said that that feature had been used several times to trace stolen laptops, but there had been no discussion of using that capability to monitor students' behavior. "I can't imagine anyone in the district did anything other than track stolen computers," she said.
Lillie Coney, associate director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a privacy watchdog group, said that she had not heard of a previous case where school officials were alleged to have monitored student behavior at home via a computer.
If the lawsuits' allegations are true, Coney said, "this is an outrageous invasion of individual privacy - it shocks the conscience."
People are reacting one of two ways: 1) HOLY SHIT BURN THEM ALL or 2) ALARMIST BULLSHIT.
The way I see it is this: whether or not the account in the case file is exactly what happened, the district has admitted that they have the technology. The vice principal of Harriton also has photographic evidence of the kid's wrongdoing AT HOME and HELD IT AGAINST HIM. Something is sketch here one way or the other.
I would not be surprised if it were all true, though. (This is C&P'd from the various places where I've been ranting, so again, most of you have seen this already, verbatim.)
- In middle school, before technology-in-the-classrooms exploded like this, we would have those ghetto little iMacs and we'd do work on them in class. If kids tried to play games on them, the school would remotely hijack the mouse and exit the program they didn't want open. I saw it happen a few times.
- The year after I graduated high school, they started blocking all of the social networking sites, as well as sites that would encourage time-wasting in general. They'd always been obsessed with keeping us busy; I always felt guilted into joining clubs, for instance. A year or so after I graduated they made it "illegal" for students to be hanging around anywhere on campus that wasn't the cafeteria, the field, or a classroom, and in fact redesigned scheduling (from what I understand) to facilitate this. When I went back to visit last year during spring break, I felt like I'd stepped into a police state, at least compared to what it used to be when I was there. The security guard forced me to sign in (a rule that was never enforced that I can remember) and told me to "move along." The hallways were like a fucking ghost town, which was depressing because I remember how vibrant (at least to me, at the time) the school was. And at one point one of the Spanish teachers started basically shrieking at me when I was texting in the hallway because "YOU'RE NOT ALLOWED TO TEXT HERE! WHY AREN'T YOU IN CLASS! GO TO CLASS!" and threatened to "escort" me to the principal until she realized I had a visitor's pass. (So apparently it was actually necessary these days.) They're fucking whack, man. It changed in the course of a few months. Drastically. And I feel like all the new rules were created in the interest of keeping the students from having too much unsupervised down time.
So It doesn't take much of a stretch for me to imagine how they might get from where they were when I was in middle school to where they (allegedly) are now.
On the other hand, I know the kids and parents of Lower Merion, and it could also be some totally trumped up situation wherein the kid took dumbass pictures of himself doing dumbass things on PhotoBooth and left them on the HD for the next backup or inspection or whatever.
I totally agree that if the school gives you a computer to use for school things, it's your own damn fault if you decide to download copyrighted material, or go to porn sites, etc. I never trust institutional machines to not be following my clickstream or whatever. But it's TOTALLY FUCKING CREEPY if the school is aware, for instance, that you jack off
to porn sites. That's an entirely new degree of invasion.
(I'm not saying he did this, I don't know what he did. But someone does this. You give roughly 1000 teenage boys each a free laptop, and it's basically inevitable.)
Anyway. If it's true, I want someone to go down HARD for this, no matter how fond my memories of LM are. The district brags about being pioneers in this sort of program, apparently, and if this is true they are setting an unfortunate precedent. Really fucking terrifying, actually.