February 18, 2010

Big Teacher Is Watching You.

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

***
Orwell presaged it:
The telescreen received and transmitted simultaneously. Any sound that Winston made, above the level of a very low whisper, would be picked up by it, moreover, so long as he remained within the field of vision which the metal plaque commanded, he could be seen as well as heard. There was of course no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment. How often, or on what system, the Thought Police plugged in on any individual wire was guesswork. It was even conceivable that they watched everybody all the time. But at any rate they could plug in your wire whenever they wanted to. You had to live — did live, from habit that became instinct — in the assumption that every sound you made was overheard, and, except in darkness, every movement scrutinized.

55 comments:

Lem said...

That's not a hoax?

I mean it takes a lot of people to pull that off, no?

Nobody said 'stop what are we doing'?

John Burgess said...

If true--and we only see the complaint--somebody ought to be going to jail for quite a while.

Discovery ought to be quite interesting, though the possibility of finding kiddie-porn on school monitoring drives is rather high. No teenager ever engages in sexual activity in his/her bedroom, right?

Pity that taxpayers are going to be hit with the legal bills, though.

WV: acklit... what reading the discovery will turn into.

Comrade X said...

Chris Hansen strolls into the principals office and asks him to take a seat

rhhardin said...

I spend all my time trying to be heard.

Irene said...

What if it's innocent: perhaps the school is just checking to determine whether the children are practicing their Buddhist meditation exercises at home?

Seriously, the comment, from "fartie" over there says it all, "holly shit that's so not ok."

wv: "deters." SRSLY

Joe M. said...

yikes.

Brian Day said...

FTA: 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.

Kids do a lot of stupid things that are inappropriate. But when they behave inappropriately at home, it is the parent's responsibility to discipline, not the schools.

Too bad the taxpayers will ultimately have to pay for the school's malfeasance. At a minimum, any district employee who actually monitors the computers outside of school hours (plus any reasonable amount of time for before/after school activities) should be jailed for a few years.

wv: imewa - no, I am not a sheep.

Mark O said...

Hey, Mrs. Rasband, take a gander at this!

Nora said...

This confirms the idea I have, that education and media has a special attraction for the leftis crowd. Leftist ideology tend to attract people who need to impose their opinions and world view on the "ignorant masses". Teaching and journalism are the two areas where self declared "progressives" can make a living from what they like to do most.

Actually it would be interesting to know how many from ideological left work outside education and media.

Peter V. Bella said...

Kids do a lot of stupid things that are inappropriate. But when they behave inappropriately at home, it is the parent's responsibility to discipline, not the schools.

Not any longer. Where have you been living, under a rock.

US Department of Education Regulation 2(345+865) states that public schools will replace the birth unit and sperm donor as guardians of the state owned child. The educational institution will be responsible for all discipline in or out of school. The NEA will monitor Boards of Education for compliance.

Parental interference is punishable by ten years in prison for a and surrendering of the child.

former law student said...

So the webcam is operated remotely and the images stored on the laptop's hard drive, for the administration to review back at school?

Or are the images sent from home to school over an internet connection?

Or, as I suspect, did some one at the house turn the webcam on, save the images, which the administration saw at school?

Section V of the pleading should have cited the 14th amendment as well as the 4th, and reiterated that the School District was a governmental entity -- here performing a warrantless search of the student's home.

Bart Hall (Kansas, USA) said...

Government administration; Media & entertainment; Academia & education -- the primary habitats of the self-appointed liberal elite and their hangers on.

Ignorance is Bliss said...

Principal Ed Rooney, from Ferris Bueller's Day off, would have loved a system like this.

Come to think of it, so would Jeffrey Jones, the actor who played Principal Rooney.

Tony Ryan said...

Read the complaint and the school district's response (on their Web page, www.lmsd.org).
I'm starting to think that the school may be in the right on this.

Irene said...

@fls Perhaps they didn't include the warrantless search claim because the school may have had the students sign a *small print* consent or waiver when the school issued the laptops.

Joan said...

Or, as I suspect, did some one at the house turn the webcam on, save the images, which the administration saw at school?

FLS: do you ever read the links?

The school remotely activated the webcam on the student's laptop, observed and documented his behavior at home, then confronted him with his "inappropriate" behavior with printed photos that were snapped from the webcam and printed at school.

Cut and dried invasion of privacy, especially with the school's admission that they could, and did, remotely activate the webcams at any time and observe whoever was in the room, whatever they were doing.

This is so, so creepy. Who signed off on this? Why did anyone ever think this could be OK? How could they possibly justify it?

wv: jarigh -- Ya, right!

Joan said...

Tony Ryan: You've got to be kidding me.

From the district's statement (emphasis added):
• How did the security feature work?

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.


Directly contradicts the statements made in the complaint. Who's lying? I'm guessing it's not the parents.

edutcher said...

There was an April Fool like this about 10 years ago, but it was workplace desktops and I strung a co-worker along with it for a little bit, so consider that.

If true, however, I wouldn't put it past the teacher unions or the current crowd at Education.Can't wait to hear The Zero's Safe Schools Czar on this one.

Methadras said...

This is wrong. They should be checking that they are properly singing the praises of The Dear Leader Obama. mmm, mmm, mmm.

wv = penic (missed it by that much)

Methadras said...

Also, let's remember that these are Apple laptops that the spying is taking place on. That isn't being reported or covered. I'm sure the apple fanboys/girls will be trying to figure out a way to hide this fact.

Methadras said...

edutcher said...

Can't wait to hear The Zero's Safe Schools Czar on this one.


You won't because that pedo is too busy rubbing a few out to the imagery.

traditionalguy said...

Leadership and proper authority are supposed to E-ducate the young. That means to lead them from ignorance into knowledge brick by brick. The disaster is that schools now see the students as cattle to be controlled, drugged and sold for attendance days, and that is all. The longer a child attends these public internment camps the less likely they will succeed in life. Thanks Obama and friends.

lyssalovelyredhead said...

I know that this misses the entire point of the post, but why even have laptops? We're always hearing about how underfunded the schools are; why provide a bunch of clumsy, not likely to respect school property kids with an expensive electronic?

Jim said...

The employees who did the spying should be named as individuals in the lawsuit and be liable.

There's no doubt in any sane person's mind that it was not within the scope of their job to remotely activate a webcam at a student's home and spy on them or their family. No sane person could have possibly thought that it was a reasonable request by their employer.

If I'm not mistaken, the standard for whether or not you can claim "well my boss told me to" as a valid defense, is whether or not the person could have or should have known that what they were doing was illegal.

I really want to challenge anyone here to come up with a legitimate argument that a school employee could not or should not have known that what they were doing was so far beyond the pale of legal activity as to justify them being able to hide behind the school district as a defense.

RigelDog said...

I thought the spying was bad enough, but according to the complaint, these laptops were acquired as a result of state and federal GRANTS. Lower Merion is perhaps the most well-heeled, elite school district in the state of Pennsylvania. Main Line Philadelphia. Talk about an obscene waste of taxpayer money!

garage mahal said...

Yes, Obama and Apple are clearly implicated here, and are at fault.

AJ Lynch said...

This school district is known for two things:

1-Kobe Bryant is an alumnus.
2- It spend $28,000 per student which may be more than any other public school district in the country.

Revenant said...

I've read the district's policy and the legal complaint. Interestingly, so far as I can tell there is nothing in the "substantive allegations" section that claims the picture was taken remotely.

The kid could have taken a picture of himself and the school just recovered it from the hard drive sometime later. They own the laptop; they probably have the legal right to do that.

Youngblood said...

Revenant wrote:

"Interestingly, so far as I can tell there is nothing in the 'substantive allegations' section that claims the picture was taken remotely."

Paragraph 23:

"On November 11, 2009, Plaintiffs were for the first time informed of the above-mentioned capability and practice by the School District when Lindy Matsko ("Matsko), an Assistant Principal at Harriton High School, informed minor Plaintiff that the School District was of the belief that minor Plaintiff was engaged in improper behavior in his home, and cited as evidence a photograph from the webcam embedded in minor Plaintiff s personal laptop issued by the School District."

edutcher said...

RigelDog said...

I thought the spying was bad enough, but according to the complaint, these laptops were acquired as a result of state and federal GRANTS. Lower Merion is perhaps the most well-heeled, elite school district in the state of Pennsylvania. Main Line Philadelphia. Talk about an obscene waste of taxpayer money!

Lower Merion is fairly affluent (I come from Bryn Mawr, so I know the area), but it's hardly "the most well-heeled, elite school district in the state of Pennsylvania.". Haverford (next door, about a block away, actually) is about as well off, but Gladwyne is the true high-rent district.

Rigel is sounding off because it's the Main Line. Big whoop, I grew up in the middle of it in a blue collar Catholic neighborhood where almost everybody I knew went to the parish school (I was the exception). The area is fairly conservative, so I'll bet this is a teacher union-feds co-production.

AJ Lynch said...

This school district is known for two things:

1-Kobe Bryant is an alumnus.
2- It spend $28,000 per student which may be more than any other public school district in the country.


As I say, the area's affluent, but it's not Silver Spoon country.

Elliott A said...

Were the recipients of the laptops and the recipients of the spying pretty girls?

Peter V. Bella said...

Here is a great idea- we the people should be able to log into a sight and watch government employees, bureaucrats, and elected officials in their offices and workplaces.

Who knows what we would see and find out. Yowzer!:)

Revenant said...

Youngblood,

Carefully read the section you quoted. It says that the picture is "from the webcam embedded in minor Plaintiff's personal laptop issued by the School District". It does not say the picture was taken remotely.

Revenant said...

Let me be a little more specific. Here's a hypothetical scenario:

(1): School lends laptop computer to student for educational use only.

(2): Student snaps a picture of himself doing a bong hit or something similarly juvenile.

(3): Subject shares the pic with friends and it finds its way back to the school administrators. Or he posts it on Facebook. Or the school searches his hard drive and finds the photo, or any of a zillion other possibilities.

Here's the question: what, among the "substantive allegations", rules out this scenario? There are allegations that the school has a photo, and allegations that the school CAN take photos remotely. Where's the allegation along the lines of "on or around date XYZ, defendants remotely photographed subject ABC"?

I'm not ruling out the possibility that the school did something retarded and Orwellian. But the legal complaint is oddly nonspecific, which makes me wonder what the plaintiffs are hiding.

JAL said...

So is the school alleging that the kid stole the computer and they were locating it?

If the kid was doing something illegal, overlooking the illegality of accessing that through the webcam, would addressing it with the parental units not have been the route to take? And/or the cops?

But it is a bit ambivalent in what I have read so far about how the picture got on the computer. And how the school happened across it.

If they were concerned about theft, why didn't they microchip them?

Joan said...

Rev, I think the language is pretty clear. The webcam is what is embedded on the student's laptop. The photograph was taken by the snoop, remotely.

Page 4 of the complaint:
14. Plaintiffs' claims are typical of the lcaims of the other members of the Class, as Plaintiffs and all other members were injured in exactly the same way -- by the unauthorized, inappropriate and indiscriminate remote activation of a webcam contained within a laptop computer issued to students by the School District and the intentional interception of their private webcam images in violation of federal and state law as complained of herein. (emphasis added)

AJ Lynch said...

Eductcher:

Bryn Mawr and Gladwyne are in the Lower Merion School district. It is one of the wealthiest school districts in the country. It is very very affluent.

Yeah there are small blue-collar areas like parts of Ardmore but on average, it is very very affluent.

former law student said...

Joan, what the plaintiffs allege is not necessarily the truth.

Even if the school can take pictures remotely, the facts in the complaint do not rule out alternatives. The students, their siblings, their parents, or perhaps even the dog stepping on the mouse could have turned on the webcam.

There is one definite privacy issue: the school administrators looking at picture files on school-issued laptops. Even if they did not take pictures remotely, they did send laptops home with the kids, and they did go through the laptop looking for pictures.

Revenant said...

Joan,

I read that section, too. The problem is that while it claims that people were injured by "the unauthorized, inappropriate and indiscriminate remote activation of a webcam", it doesn't cite ANY examples of this happening.

As for the bit you bolded:

the intentional interception of their private webcam images

So far as I can tell, there was no legal way for "private" webcam images to be taken. The school owned the machine, and authorized students to use it (and, more specifically, the webcam) solely for educational purposes. There is (as I understand it) no reasonable expectation of privacy from a party when you are illicitly using that party's property.

Revenant said...

Even if they did not take pictures remotely, they did send laptops home with the kids, and they did go through the laptop looking for pictures.

Maybe it is different for schools, but my company sends a laptop home with me and I know for a fact that it has the legal right to inspect what's on it. I would expect the school to have been very clear about what use was authorized, if for no other reason to prevent themselves from being sued when some Baptist family's kid gets caught looking at porn on it.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

Beware of admistrative flunkies bearing laptops.

It's a trap.

former law student said...

But the legal complaint is oddly nonspecific, which makes me wonder what the plaintiffs are hiding.

The plaintiffs are likely hoping to find out more during discovery. The requirements of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure are not that onerous.

Rule 8. General Rules of Pleading
(a) Claims for Relief.
A pleading that states a claim for relief must contain:

(1) a short and plain statement of the grounds for the court’s jurisdiction, unless the court already has jurisdiction and the claim needs no new jurisdictional support;

(2) a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief; and

(3) a demand for the relief sought, which may include relief in the alternative or different types of relief.

t-man said...

Ack -

My kids' babysitter goes to that high school, and brings her laptop when she sits. I think I am actually a member of the proposed class!

The district's merely having this ability is wrong. Imagine some school IT guy with a taste for teenage girls. Kids study in their rooms ...

Terrible!

t-man said...

Another appalling thing about this is that Lower Merion may be the wealthiest school district in Pennylvania (for those of you unfamiliar with the town, it includes Bryn Mawr, parts of Villanova, and one of its zip codes is in the top 10 nationwide for wealth.

But they funded the laptops for all program with federal and state grants.

former law student said...

Imagine some school IT guy with a taste for teenage girls.

Not so hard to imagine; a year ago the IT guy for the Seattle Children's Theater was arrested for accessing child pornography, both at work and at home:

http://www.seattlepi.com/local/405165_childporn15.html

Skookum John said...

"Also, let's remember that these are Apple laptops that the spying is taking place on. That isn't being reported or covered. I'm sure the apple fanboys/girls will be trying to figure out a way to hide this fact."

What's there to hide? This is not a hacking issue. The school owns these machines, has physical access to them, holds the root passwords to each and every one, and has evidently set up iChat specifically for this purpose.

I would expect that each of the computers had an MCX preference manifest for iChat pushed out from the central server to prevent this capability from being disabled. The MCX system and the SSL encryption used by this program are essentially uncrackable. Without this deliberate setup with legitimate root access, there is no way that an external peeping-Tom attacker could activate this system.

This is an example of a system working perfectly and securely for its intended purpose. The propriety and legality of that purpose are all that can be called into question.

MadisonMan said...

Late to the party, but I find myself in complete agreement with revenant.

I think it likely that a kid used the laptop to take pictures of themselves doing something either foolish or illegal (or both). The school found out about it -- not by remotely spying on the kid, but by facebook.

I will add that the parents are filing the lawsuit as cover for their kid's misdeed.

If you don't want a computer to spy on you, don't accept the computer. That's a pretty simple rule.

Shanna said...

Maybe it is different for schools, but my company sends a laptop home with me and I know for a fact that it has the legal right to inspect what's on it.

Sure, but damn, grown adults with their job on the line have trouble realizing that their company computers shouldn’t be used for inappropriate stuff...I can’t see handing one over to a teenager without expecting them to use it for all kinds of things.

The school should have realized it, and should have realized that handing out laptops to students was going to result in inappropriate content. They should have just scrubbed the things when they got them back from the students and not look. To actually try to take action based on something that happened not at school is WAY out of bounds, regardless of how they got the information.

I agree with DBQ, it was a trap.

Joan said...

If you don't want a computer to spy on you, don't accept the computer.

I would be surprised if the students were allowed to decline.

t-man said...

Also,

Anyone else who happens to be in range of the camera could be spied upon, but they have no say in whether to accept the computer or not.

Skookum John said...

I think it likely that a kid used the laptop to take pictures of themselves doing something either foolish or illegal (or both). The school found out about it -- not by remotely spying on the kid, but by facebook.


Perhaps. I thought the question was whether or not the school could activate the camera remotely, but it's possible that the kid used Photo Booth to activate the camera himself. My daughter and her friends spend hours mugging for the camera with that program, and then upload the pictures to their Facebook accounts. If that's what happened, they REALLY don't have a case against the school.

Brian Day said...

PVB asked earlier: Where have you been living, under a rock. [?]

Actually, yes.

I understand that public schools today are going the way of big brother. My wife works for the local school district as a teacher's aide. The stories she tells about the stupidity she has to deal with from the administration to the teachers, to the uninvolved parents makes for interesting conversation.

Many parents abdicate their responsibilities via their children's education. In those cases the schools are all to happy to step in to act as surrogate parents.

At least in our area, parents who are actively involved with their kid's education still have a fair amount of control over what happens to their kids at school

Youngblood said...

Revenant wrote:

"Carefully read the section you quoted. It says that the picture is 'from the webcam embedded in minor Plaintiff's personal laptop issued by the School District'. It does not say the picture was taken remotely."

Well, if you read even more carefully, you'll see that the Plaintiffs do not allege that any picture was actually taken or exists at all. The existence of the image was mentioned by the assistant principal, but it was not shown to either the student or his parents.

I read the paragraph as legalese to account for that, so that the case doesn't fall apart if no specific picture of the activity ever surfaces.

I mean, one thing that I haven't seen anyone here or elsewhere point out is that the Plaintiffs are suing themselves in a fairly direct way.

Lower Merion Township is one of the most affluent communities in the country. They pay high taxes to make sure that their local public high school is one of the best in the entire nation. I'm quite certain that these people realize that whatever judgment comes down, it will either come out of their own pockets and impact their own kids' education.

When you live in Lower Merion, you don't need to sue the local school district for a quick buck. I don't think that the Plaintiffs would have been able to turn this into a class action suit if this was a case of the school recovering a picture of a student doing a bong hit. They're not going to bankrupt the school their kids go to over something like that.

My own suspicion is that the whole point of the civil suit was to get the story into the news and attract the attention of law enforcement to put the people involved in the project behind bars.

Given that the Montgomery County DA and FBI are both starting investigations as of today, they may be getting their wish.

(Also, my own "pulled outta my ass" suspicion is that the kid was problem jerking off to porn on the computer at home.)

Revenant said...

To actually try to take action based on something that happened not at school is WAY out of bounds, regardless of how they got the information.

If the student voluntarily took a picture of himself using the webcam, that would mean that the inappropriate behavior was carried out using school property.

Smoking a joint or flashing your boobs? Not the school's business. Taking a picture of it? Probably not the school's business. Taking a picture of it with the school's camera? Very much the school's business.

Revenant said...

I'm quite certain that these people realize that whatever judgment comes down, it will either come out of their own pockets and impact their own kids' education.

Assuming the district has the normal ratio of taxpayers to public school students, the parents would end up paying around 25 cents for every dollar awarded in the lawsuit. The other 80 cents would come out of taxes paid by people with no kids in public school.

I don't think that the Plaintiffs would have been able to turn this into a class action suit if this was a case of the school recovering a picture of a student doing a bong hit

The school has admitted that the laptops webcams could be remotely activated and that they didn't inform the parents of this. That alone is sufficient grounds for class action status, even if no actual pictures were taken.

They're not going to bankrupt the school their kids go to over something like that.

Why not? The school isn't going to close. If they win, whatever money they get will cover their tax increases several times over.

My own suspicion is that the whole point of the civil suit was to get the story into the news and attract the attention of law enforcement to put the people involved in the project behind bars.

A more likely explanation is that they had something embarrassing on the school (the remote activation capability) and hoped to use that dirty little secret to extort a fat settlement on their bogus lawsuit. :)