Thursday, February 18, 2010

If I Come Up With Something More Stupid, I'll Let You Know

Here's the condensed version: a school issues laptops to students. These laptops come with a built-in web cam which can be activated by district personnel unbeknownst to the students; the stated purpose of this feature is to assist in recovering stolen or lost laptops. A class-action suit against the district has been filed for activating the web cams:

They claim Lindy Matsko, an assistant principal at Harriton High School, spied on their son, Blake, at home by remotely activating the webcam on his laptop.

The suit alleges that Matsko informed the boy that he was engaged in inappropriate behavior in his home, and cited as evidence a photograph from the webcam embedded in his laptop.

The student told his parents about the incident, the suit claims, and the boy's father confronted Matsko.

The suit claims Matsko acknowledged the school could start the webcam and take pictures whenever it wanted to.

The family's lawsuit alleges the school district violated civil rights, privacy and federal wiretapping laws, and it says as many as 1,800 students could be affected at Harriton and Lower Merion High Schools.

The family also claims that every high school student in the district had a webcam laptop, and the computers were paid for with state and federal aid money.

I'm curious about what the kid was doing in the picture the assistant principal referenced. And then there's this little nugget of pain-and-suffering:

"This school-issued laptop is a part of our life 24-7," parent Karen Gotlieb said. "It is open all the time. I just received an e-mail from my daughter, who's very upset, saying, 'Mom, I have that laptop open all the time in my bedroom, even when I'm changing.'"

Somebody didn't think this through.


MiaZagora said...

Why would anyone think it was okay to spy on students in their homes?

ChrisA said...

I don't find myself particularly curoius what the student was doing. Also, if he told his parents it couldn't be all that bad.

I'm curious why any of these idiot administrators still have jobs. They should be out on the street before a lawsuit was ever filed.

Perhaps I should read the article, surely I'm missing something? ;-)

Curmudgeon said...

The school owns the laptop. This fact will color the legal issues considerably, along with the exact wording of the agreements and notices that the parents have received.

maxutils said...

It shouldn't . . .imagine if the camera is activated while a teen student is undressing for bed? Instant child porn.
Also, how is the camera going to help them recover a lost computer? Don't GPS chips do that? And, if that's the stated purpose, why are they activating it on a computer that isn't lost?
Idiots. And evil ones, too.

Anonymous said...

Curmudgeon said: "The school owns the laptop. This fact will color the legal issues considerably, along with the exact wording of the agreements and notices that the parents have received."

I'm not so sure on that point. How do they figure that the students (or their parents) have totally waived their right of privacy? I don't think the student could do so.

I thought the recent local flap when school bureaucrats tried to penalize a high school senior on weapons charges after procuring a search of his vehicle (not on school property.)

I'd like to see those administrators as well as the wannabe voyeurs and big brother types in the Lower Merion school system all on the unemployment line. In fact, if the voyeur types have been saving any little gems involving unclad kids, how about a little hard time for child porn?

Anyone with an IQ above room temperature should have realized instantly that this whole spy scheme is totally beyond the pale. Or have we gone so far as to have produced a generations of educrats that actually think 24 hour control and monitoring of students is appropriate?

Anonymous said...

Moral of the story: let the kids choose to buy their own laptops.

DADvocate said...

I"m amazed and dismayed how often people in our educational system don't understand or respect our basic civil rights. I hope heads roll and much money is lost.

Ellen K said...

If it is school issued equipment, then the district has the responsibility to make sure it is being used for school purposes. I am willing to bet the server logged in and found him on an inappropriate site. You sign a waiver when you accept these devices, maybe it would be a good idea to read the waiver first. When the program of issuing laptops to students was tried in a local middle school, several of the devices were stolen, others were loaded with inappropriate images, viruses, and various programs that were supposed to not be added to the laptop. They are not GIVING it to the families, it is just like a textbook being issued for a time. Maybe the daughter should sometimes turn off the laptop. Perhaps the son should not send inappropriate photos through the school server. Can you imagine the hue and cry that would arise if the laptops were returned and the images found on the server? What would the headline be then. This is just like when a company issues a laptop to an employee. It's not a gift.

Darren said...

Ellen, what is alleged is that the district activated the webcam and caught the kid doing something he wasn't supposed to be doing. The district admitted they had this functionality but has now turned it off.

That's quite a bit different from what you've suggested. Much worse.

Ellen K said...

Since I talk to our IT guy quite a bit, here is how it works. Even though you have a laptop you can take home, you still logon through the school access. At school, filters keep spam, porn, etc from entering the system. But when you use the home access this introduces it into the system. Most of the viruses that have run through our servers were introduces after one of the teachers brought it in from sites or email accessed at home. Since the laptops are tied to the school, that means that there is the potential for backdoor entries into the system, sort of like a Trojan. The potential for things like ID theft is huge under just such a scenario. I don't know specifically what happened, but I doubt the administrator was spending their days tripping through computers to catch someone. The more likely reason this happened is that there was a filter or program that some image or site tripped. Once the alarm was tripped they had to find out the source. Seeking the source they found photo files, and opening the photo files found evidence of misuse. And while people can talk about privacy, just like with cell phones, laptops operating on wireless opens you up to an entire range of access by others. If parents don't want anyone monitoring laptop, I am sure they can opt out.

Darren said...

While I don't deny what you're saying, that isn't what's being alleged in this case. What's being alleged is remotely activating a web cam on the computers, a functionality the district admits it had and has now deactivated.

No one would have a leg to stand on if people were accessing inappropriate sites and being caught. But again, that isn't what's alleged in this case.

maxutils said...

Yes, i can see why the district wouldn't want backdoor entries . . .

neko said...

According to this article, the school apparently spied the student eating candy: