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FBI Probing PA School Webcam Spy Case

Soulskill posted more than 4 years ago | from the looking-to-defend-their-turf dept.

Privacy 312

On Thursday we discussed news that a Pennsylvania high school was spying on students through the webcams in laptops that were issued to the students. The FBI is now taking an interest in the case, investigating whether federal wiretap and computer-intrusion laws were violated in the process. "The FBI opened its investigation after news of the suit broke on Thursday, the law-enforcement official said. Montgomery County District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman may also investigate, she said Friday." Ferman said her office is "looking to see whether there are potential violations of Pennsylvania criminal laws."

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312 comments

Damn Good. (3, Interesting)

headkase (533448) | more than 4 years ago | (#31210486)

Because the absolute first thing *I* thought when I heard of this atrocity is: "Orwell would be proud."

Re:Damn Good. (4, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31210512)

Not Orwell, don't overuse it.

First thing I thought was "Pedobear would be proud."

Re:Damn Good. (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31210706)

The easiest way to create child porn is giving free cameras to teenagers.

Obviously, the school wants to promote the creation of child porn by giving webcams to their students.

Re:Damn Good. (4, Informative)

HungryHobo (1314109) | more than 4 years ago | (#31211254)

Anyway-
It seems the whole mess was a storm in a teacup.

It seems it was just some setup where if a student reported a laptop missing the school which owned those laptops could remotely access it to try to figure out where it was and who was using it.

1. Did an assistant principal at Harriton ever have the ability to remotely monitor a student at home? Did she utilize a photo taken by a school-issued laptop to discipline a student?

        * No. At no time did any high school administrator have the ability or actually access the security- tracking software. We believe that the administrator at Harriton has been unfairly portrayed and unjustly attacked in connection with her attempts to be supportive of a student and his family. The district never did and never would use such tactics as a basis for disciplinary action.

2. How were the decisions made to develop the original security plan? Were there/are there safeguards in place to ensure student privacy with regard to use of the security application?

        * Concerned about the security of district-owned and issued laptops, the security plan was developed by the technology department to give the District the ability to recover lost, stolen or missing student laptops. This included tracking loaner laptops that may, against regulations, have been taken off campus.
        * Only two members of the technology department could access the security feature.

3. Were students and families explicitly told about the laptop security system?

        * No. There was no formal notice given to students or their families. The functionality and intended use of the security feature should have been communicated clearly to students and families.

4. How many thefts have there been? How many times was the system used? What have been the results in terms of recovery of computers?

        * During the 2009-10 school year, 42 laptops were reported lost, stolen or missing and the tracking software was activated by the technology department in each instance. A total of 18 laptops were found or recovered. This number (18) is an updated number given the information we have compiled today.

5. What was the total cost of implementation of the laptop program?

        * The approximate cost of each laptop is $1,000 and during the two years of the program, there were 2,620 laptops purchased.

6. How was funding obtained for the laptop program?

        * Laptops were purchased using a combination of district funds and and Classrooms for the Future grants.

7. When was the district notified of the allegations contained in the lawsuit?

        * The district learned of the allegations Thursday, February 18th. No complaints were received prior to this date. The district's initial response was posted on the district webpage and communicated to students and parents the same day. The district will not be commenting on the specifics of the plaintiff's complaint, however, outside the legal process.

8. In the future, will students be required to use district issued laptops?

        * The district believes students received significant benefit from the one-to-one laptop program and has no intention of discontinuing the program.

9. Is remote access activity by the district logged?

        * Yes. There is a log entry for every instance of the security feature activation. The logs will be reviewed as part of the special review conducted under the direction of special outside counsel.

10. Can parents return currently issued laptops to the district at this time?

        * They can, but we note that the laptops are an integral component of the educational program in the district. The security feature has been deactivated and there is no reason to be concerned about the use of the laptop on campus or at home.

11. Did the district remotely access any laptops which were not lost, missing or stolen?

        * No.

12. Are students allowed to cover the camera on their school issued laptops with tape?

        * Yes. There is no requirement that a student use the camera's standard webcam feature.

FAQs Posted February 18

1. Why are webcams installed on student laptops?

        * The Apple computers that the District provides to students come equipped with webcams and students are free to utilize this feature for educational purposes.

2. Why was the remote tracking-security feature installed?

        * Laptops are a frequent target for theft in schools and off school property. The security feature was installed to help locate a laptop in the event it was reported lost, missing or stolen so that the laptop could be returned to the student.

3. 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.

4. Do you anticipate reactivating the tracking-security feature?

        * Not without express written notification to all students and families.

Telescreens (4, Informative)

headkase (533448) | more than 4 years ago | (#31210542)

Sometimes you're so indignent you don't get it all out the first time: Telescreens, the screen that looks back at you. Orwell'd.

Re:Telescreens (4, Interesting)

headkase (533448) | more than 4 years ago | (#31210736)

Telescreen [wikipedia.org] . Linky for the google-impaired. Also, it's not Big Brother we have to worry about, it's all these "Little Brothers."

Re:Damn Good. (0, Offtopic)

LuxMaker (996734) | more than 4 years ago | (#31210734)

For me the first thing I thought of when I heard about this case was that quote from Avatar : "I see you."

Re:Damn Good. (5, Insightful)

trapnest (1608791) | more than 4 years ago | (#31210832)

You guys know that Orwell didn't want 1984 to be true... right? Orwell would be quite disappointed in us.

Re:Damn Good. (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31211112)

Orwell already understood it to be true. 1984=1948

Re:Damn Good. (1)

maxume (22995) | more than 4 years ago | (#31211068)

The first thing I thought was "Here comes a shitstorm."

Turns out, society at large finds the behavior here pretty unconscionable, not something that they should embrace.

FIST... (2, Insightful)

DamonHD (794830) | more than 4 years ago | (#31210498)

...of common sense.

Seriously though, as was said on the previous /. thread on this topic: who could seriously have thought that the ability to spy on kids in their bedrooms was (a) a good idea and (b) something to brag about.

Rgds

Damon

Re:FIST... (4, Informative)

jo42 (227475) | more than 4 years ago | (#31210750)

I recently watched a documentary (it may of been BBC's The Virtual Revolution [bbc.co.uk] ) where they showed a principle in a New York City area school spying on what his students where doing during the day at school via their school issued laptops. He could see what they where doing on the machine and even them via the webcam. They even showed him taking a snap of a student combing her hair to get her attention as in 'get back to work'.

Re:FIST... (1)

sjames (1099) | more than 4 years ago | (#31210838)

One wonders what the principle does when he discovers that a student took the laptop with them into the restroom....

Re:FIST... (5, Insightful)

al0ha (1262684) | more than 4 years ago | (#31210852)

One thing I've learned in my life, given the chance, many will choose to do the wrong thing. I used to be cynical so many to me used to be most, but I'm pretty sure most will choose to do the right thing, but many won't. However I also know power corrupts, if only for the reason those who seek power generally suffer from narcissism, so for those with power, perhaps the bell curve is skewed more towards most.

Re:FIST... (5, Interesting)

ScrewMaster (602015) | more than 4 years ago | (#31211126)

One thing I've learned in my life, given the chance, many will choose to do the wrong thing. I used to be cynical so many to me used to be most, but I'm pretty sure most will choose to do the right thing, but many won't. However I also know power corrupts, if only for the reason those who seek power generally suffer from narcissism, so for those with power, perhaps the bell curve is skewed more towards most.

I agree, but it's not so much that power corrupts, but that unaccountability corrupts. If an individual will suffer no consequences for harming another, then you are depending upon that individual's better nature. The problem is ... he or she may not have one. That, in fact, is why we have the rule of law: you may or may not be someone that can be trusted, but the system will hold you accountable. Given that the Feds are involved in this matter, I think that an accounting is exactly what's about to happen.

Re:FIST... (2, Interesting)

hduff (570443) | more than 4 years ago | (#31211208)

One thing I've learned in my life, given the chance, many will choose to do the wrong thing.

And I've learned that choosing "the wrong thing" frequently leads to no deleterious effects, so it's not necessary to catch and severely punish every instance of "the wrong thing"; most all of it is self-correcting over time.

Re:FIST... (4, Insightful)

ae1294 (1547521) | more than 4 years ago | (#31210776)

who could seriously have thought that the ability to spy on kids in their bedrooms was (a) a good idea and (b) something to brag about.

Pedophiles?

Probing (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31210860)

My p3n1s is probing you girlfriend's aNu$ :D

Innocent until proven guilty (1)

mangu (126918) | more than 4 years ago | (#31211128)

Until I have some more data on this, I won't make an assumption on what happened.

It's one thing to watch kids on their bedroom, it's another thing to find an image the kid made on his or her computer. I suppose that's exactly what the FBI wants to find out, who made those images?

These days when people start screaming "Ohmigod! There's pedophiles everywhere!" the school administration should be very careful if they give computers with cameras to the students.

What if a 15-year-old girl sent a picture of herself wearing a bikini to her 16-year-old boyfriend? There would be lots of people claiming the school administration was facilitating the creation and distribution of "child pornography".

Re:Innocent until proven guilty (1)

DamonHD (794830) | more than 4 years ago | (#31211220)

Hi,

I'm *not* assuming that the school staff *were* looking at dodgy images of children in their bedrooms. Not relevant really, though if they *have* been doing it...

It's the *ability* to do so, and the fact that the parents found out post hoc that is the issue IMHO.

If I discovered that our school had done this to our child I'd withdraw my child from school immediately AND call the UK Information Commissioner to start an investigation pronto AND ask the school governors to suspend all the staff involved until it was clear *who* tried to sneak this in without parental approval and indeed to check that nothing untoward had been happening.

US society is often prudish and (over)conservative and fairly prone to violence compared the the average of its western peers. This kind of jape will not result in lynchings since I expect the rule of law to prevail, but don't the people instigating this ill-thought-out scheme go to sleep imagining pitchforks and flaming torches, and if not why not?

Rgds

Damon

Re:FIST... (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31211154)

Don't sign your fucking posts like it's a letter, fucktard.

For fuck's sake - what do you think the point of doing that is? Firmly signifying to all that you're a complete fucking moron? Don't worry - the content of your posts makes everyone aware.

Go get bowel cancer.

In related news... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31210510)

.... A Pennsylvania high school reports that according to a recent study, students are not productive while using school laptops.

Update from Dr. McGinley, LMSD, 2010/02/19-10PMEST (5, Informative)

Culture20 (968837) | more than 4 years ago | (#31210554)

Re:Update from Dr. McGinley, LMSD, 2010/02/19-10PM (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31210604)

I'm having trouble reading the content at that link.
It is spinning furiously.

Re:Update from Dr. McGinley, LMSD, 2010/02/19-10PM (2, Insightful)

sizzzzlerz (714878) | more than 4 years ago | (#31210618)

Apologies and remorse are too late. Coulda-woulda-shouda. You guys fucked up big time and you are going to have your asses handed to you. Deservedly so.

Very interesting... (4, Insightful)

MobyDisk (75490) | more than 4 years ago | (#31210744)

VERY interesting.

Did the district remotely access any laptops which were not lost, missing or stolen?
No.

Aha! So why was the laptop reported lost/missing/stolen if the student had it? It seems like the administration had a legitimate reason for turning on the security software! If this is true, it complicates things. I do not fault the school system for putting security software on the system. Especially since they claim that 42 were reported lost/missing/stolen and they recovered 18 of them.

The details about this will be very interesting...

Re:Very interesting... (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31210982)

Personally I don't buy their story. The odds of catching someone doing something "interesting" (as was reported earlier) when taking a single snapshot have gotta be astronomically low. They also claim that no student was disciplined or this brought up—if so, how did they learn of the tracking software?

Re:Update from Dr. McGinley, LMSD, 2010/02/19-10PM (1)

c0d3g33k (102699) | more than 4 years ago | (#31210818)

From the linked article:

Despite some reports to the contrary, be assured that the security-tracking software has been completely disabled.

I think completely *removed* would be the only assuring thing they could do. Half-measures like this open up re-enabling in the future, whether by the school district, or someone else who now knows the software is present and has in interest in 're-purposing' it.

Re:Update from Dr. McGinley, LMSD, 2010/02/19-10PM (1)

trapnest (1608791) | more than 4 years ago | (#31210880)

"Disabled" might mean "removed" Disabled means not working, removing it would stop it from working. Yes I know that's not normally how the word is used, but non-tech people might use it as such.

Re:Update from Dr. McGinley, LMSD, 2010/02/19-10PM (3, Insightful)

The Archon V2.0 (782634) | more than 4 years ago | (#31210934)

"Disabled" might mean "removed" Disabled means not working, removing it would stop it from working. Yes I know that's not normally how the word is used, but non-tech people might use it as such.

So, is it a case of a person using the wrong word and accidentally being misunderstood, or a person using the right word and hoping his audience misunderstands him?

Re:Update from Dr. McGinley, LMSD, 2010/02/19-10PM (3, Interesting)

poetmatt (793785) | more than 4 years ago | (#31210956)

considering that they official said previously that it was never used and are now admitting to less than 50 uses, they're pretty screwed.

Re:Update from Dr. McGinley, LMSD, 2010/02/19-10PM (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31211034)

If one frame of any laptop recorded a kid naked they all need to collectively go to prison and have signs in their yards forever.

I really want to sledgehammer that freaks face.

Re:Update from Dr. McGinley, LMSD, 2010/02/19-10PM (1)

tomhudson (43916) | more than 4 years ago | (#31211082)

Wrong punishment.

Chain them to a webcam. With sound. The punishment *should* fit the crime.

Re:Update from Dr. McGinley, LMSD, 2010/02/19-10PM (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31211244)

From the Q&A at the end of the link:

> 8. In the future, will students be required to use district issued laptops?
>
> * The district believes students received significant benefit from the one-to-one laptop program and has no intention of discontinuing the program.

Way to answer the question... if a student has their own laptop already (which no doubt many do) then in no way is the one-to-one ratio reduced. I can't imagine that any software a student needs to run isn't available on any O/S they may have. My kids (grade 7 and 9) pretty much just need a pdf reader and a browser because the primary use of laptops in the classroom AFAIKS is as a universal textbook/library... and then there is this:

> 4. Do you anticipate reactivating the tracking-security feature?
>
> * Not without express written notification to all students and families.

Note how it doesn't say "express written consent from the families"... ie: we're absolutely going to do this again and in a way you can't refuse. Little Johnny can't use his own machine and we're going to pwn the one he *must* use. If you choose not to submit to this Johnny will quickly find himself in a class that is really just a storage pen for the other misfits... good luck getting into college with that on your record.

Just plain WRONG (1)

Announcer (816755) | more than 4 years ago | (#31210562)

Despite the fact that the school OWNS the machines, this is just so wrong on so many levels.

Now that this news is out, kids will stick tape over the cameras, shove gum into them, or worse. On MOST laptops, just plugging something in to the MIC jack disables the built-in mic.

Re:Just plain WRONG (1, Insightful)

lukas84 (912874) | more than 4 years ago | (#31210668)

I also don't see why the school makes such a big issue out of stolen or lost devices - they can just bill whoever let their device get stolen or lost, problem solved.

School trash (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31210782)

In middle school, I borrowed a book. The library in their stupidity didn't have a drop box. You left it on the counter. The librarian was hardly ever there. They then billed my parents because it was never returned.

Boy did I get a beating over that.

I think some little dirtbag stole it off of the counter.

Also, what about the kids who get bullied. Bully takes away device, tells bullied kid that if he "narcs" he's "dead". Now, that poor kid gets blamed for the theft.

Considering all the dirtbag thieves in school, especially the trash in public schools, there would have to be a better way.

Re:School trash (1)

lukas84 (912874) | more than 4 years ago | (#31210868)

I don't think you can solve the bully problem by GPS tracking laptops or filming boys masturbating ;)

They'll just ditch the device after school in a random dumpster made out of metal - no cellular connection, no GPS, no nothing. Such problems need to be solved out the core.

Re:School trash (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31211238)

Considering all the dirtbag thieves in school, especially the trash in public schools, there would have to be a better way.

Perhaps an embedded explosive device that could be remotely activated. That would school those "dirtbag thieves" since there is obviously no other way to deal with that kind of behavior.

PS I enjoyed the book, dude! Nancy Drew Mysteries totally rock!!

Label them as sex offender (4, Interesting)

Tanuki64 (989726) | more than 4 years ago | (#31210576)

From: http://www.boingboing.net/2010/02/17/school-used-student.html [boingboing.net]

Vice Principal used a photo taken by the webcam as evidence.

All people who were responsible for this should be labelled for the rest of their lives as sex offenders with all the consequences. Hey, they could have watched the children naked at home. I am not an American, but from what I hear from news, some people got this sex offender stigma for much more ridiculous incidents. In this case it would make sure that something like this would never happen again.

Go for creator of child pornography (1)

CanadianRealist (1258974) | more than 4 years ago | (#31210728)

All it would take is catching on child changing or masturbating. Then you're guilty of creating child pornography maybe even distributing it. I think that sounds much better than just a "sex offender".

Re:Go for creator of child pornography (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31211050)

And I'll add that catching anyone masturbating this way is just a matter of a few days, considering the laptop was probably their only computer. This is simple common sense, and the only rationale I get from this story is that some pervert wanted to record all the kids in their private moments (with all these lame excuses to somehow validate the camera use).
 
It's pretty disgusting if you actually think about it through from the begining in a logical manner. Anyone with half a wit would realize installing a (hidden) camera on the boob tube is going to record the individual in VERY private moments.

Re:Go for creator of child pornography (2, Insightful)

Duradin (1261418) | more than 4 years ago | (#31211062)

Don't forget to charge the kid too. It's the American way.

Re:Go for creator of child pornography (2, Informative)

ScrewMaster (602015) | more than 4 years ago | (#31211174)

Don't forget to charge the kid too. It's the American way.

As an American, I suppose I should be irritated by that remark ... but it's uncomfortably close to the truth. We're not handling many of these cases very well, it seems.

Sometimes you have to look at stories like this and say, "Well, we don't have all the facts in our possession, so maybe there were some extenuating circumstances." In this case, I can't really see any justification for what this school has done. It just sounds like a group of administrative types who thought they were invulnerable to consequence went too far.

When you get right down to it, the reason our schools SUCK at this point in time is because of power-mad, empire-building administrators that really couldn't give a rat's ass about the students. Teachers take a lot of the blame (much of it deserved, I agree) but just as with a staff of software developers managed by an idiot, the real responsibility lies at the top.

Re:Go for creator of child pornography (1)

hduff (570443) | more than 4 years ago | (#31211262)

... the real responsibility lies at the top.

And it will be those at the bottom who take the blame.

Re:Label them as sex offender (3, Interesting)

anyGould (1295481) | more than 4 years ago | (#31210974)

That's the part that tickled me - while there may be some (flimsy) justification for using the AV for tracking down lost laptops, where is the justification or authority for disciplining children for activities off school grounds? Amazing how some educators think that they own kids 24/7, just because they sit in their class for an hour a day.

Simple immediate solution for parents - refuse the laptops. Tell the school that you don't accept spyware in your home. And be vocal about it - school boards will let stuff rot in court for years, but a few weeks on the front page will change their minds ASAP.

Re:Label them as sex offender (3, Insightful)

sjames (1099) | more than 4 years ago | (#31211110)

More to the point, they could NOT be sure they wouldn't see the student naked when they turned the camera on.

If peeing on a dumpster at 2AM can get someone branded as a sex offender because a school (clearly unoccupied at 2AM) happened to be next door then surely any school official that activated a webcam in the absence of a theft report would deserve at least as much.

If authorities believe that's a bit much, they should also be protesting the branding of non-government employees for much lesser offenses. Especially since school officials should have been much more aware of and sensitive to the potential issues surrounding any dealing with minors.

Re:Label them as sex offender (4, Insightful)

houghi (78078) | more than 4 years ago | (#31211194)

That's the spirit. That is what the law that protect children is for: labeling people as sex offenders for the rest of their lives.

Now for me as long as there is no proof of actual intention of a sexual intention, that is not what should happen even if some images of nude kids were taken in the process. This is, in my opinion, an invasion of privacy and should be handled as such.

From the way I see people write about it, is that they want to punish these as bad as possible and the fact that breaking privacy won't do that enough says more about how important people value their privacy more then anything else.

Re:Label them as sex offender (1)

Mashiki (184564) | more than 4 years ago | (#31211256)

When laws become insane, sometimes the only way to fight back is to have everyone labelled the same way. Remember the writings of the Roman orators on this, and you'll understand the concept even better.

Good deal (3, Interesting)

LarrySDonald (1172757) | more than 4 years ago | (#31210590)

About damn time. I feel a bit pumped that the tide is shifting here, the things we know are immoral are starting to get called on why they're done, even with the best of intentions. There is a slight drift toward "if it's wrong it's wrong and if you had good reasons for it, we'd like to hear them. Don't worry if you need to state them at length, we'll go over them. A lot. Expect follow-up questions". I'm under no illusions that this will change that much, but I'm excited about the direction things seem to be taking and the realizations people seem to be having looking at the other options *couch*china*cough*.

Re:Good deal (3, Informative)

The Archon V2.0 (782634) | more than 4 years ago | (#31210904)

About damn time. I feel a bit pumped that the tide is shifting here, the things we know are immoral are starting to get called on why they're done, even with the best of intentions.

I think the only reason they're getting nailed for this is because they went so far over the line. A less flagrant violation - one that didn't raise ZOMG KIDDIE PORN fears - wouldn't have caused any uproar.

Re:Good deal (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31211046)

I agree. Don't get too excited everyone. Just like the cops, teachers and school administrators will circle the wagons and make this one disappear. You watch.

Nothing will change. Look who has all your money. Yup, you'll be paying to defend these assholes.

A.C.

Re:Good deal (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31211146)

You always pay to defend people.. most people get crappy public defenders thou

So stupid (1)

suso (153703) | more than 4 years ago | (#31210594)

I hope that entire school board gets fired and some should even see some jail time. How can anyone in their right mind think this was a good idea? And how could it get so far without someone on the school board objecting and putting a stop to it.

Why would a school ever do this? (1)

TwiztidK (1723954) | more than 4 years ago | (#31210628)

It makes sense for a school to try to protect their property and ensure that it is used for good purposes (studying as opposed to pron), but how would spying on the students ever protect their property?

The really disturbing thing about this isn't that the school could remotely activate the webcams, it's that they did, and they used that power to invade their student's privacy. Besides, the person actually doing the spying must have some serious issues.

And thats why I always but a little... (1)

JDmetro (1745882) | more than 4 years ago | (#31210634)

piece of tape on the camera of my laptop.
Damn thing creeps me out always staring at me.

Re:And thats why I always but a little... (1)

tomhudson (43916) | more than 4 years ago | (#31211108)

piece of tape on the camera of my laptop.

We hear what you did, comrade!

In Soviet Russia, laptop tapes YOU!

Prey (3, Informative)

westlake (615356) | more than 4 years ago | (#31210664)

I've seen both commercial and open source webcam enabled anti-theft software advertised for personal use: Prey [preyproject.com]

I don't know the software well enough to know how it is designed and marketed for business/institutional use. How many of these programs can capture full or stop-motion video.

This strikes me as a minefield for both the developer and his clients.

Re:Prey (3, Insightful)

lukas84 (912874) | more than 4 years ago | (#31210710)

I don't see the need for all this. There's insurance against theft and using proper full disk encryption, there's no risk of data loss for companies.

Re:Prey (1)

hodet (620484) | more than 4 years ago | (#31210986)

that`s what I was thinking. you can steal my laptop and its your brick now. install your own damned OS.

Re:Prey (1)

Lord Kano (13027) | more than 4 years ago | (#31210968)

This strikes me as a minefield for both the developer and his clients.

For some of the clients, perhaps but not the developer. Well, not if he can afford any decent lawyer. There is a legitimate use [dreamindemon.com] for that kind of software.

LK

Re:Prey (2, Insightful)

FluffyWithTeeth (890188) | more than 4 years ago | (#31211138)

To be honest, this story sounds like they did almost exactly that.

Obviously an investigation is needed, but doesnt this situation seem most likely:
Student reports his school laptop stolen so he can keep it for himself
School activates anti-theft software (which includes webcam)
School recieves image of said student, proving he lied to steal the laptop
School sends letter to student's parents telling them what their child has done.

Now I don't know if that's true, but frankly it sounds more believable than some evil school big brother conspiracy. I guess the the FBI investigation will find out in the end though.

Re:Prey (0)

FluffyWithTeeth (890188) | more than 4 years ago | (#31211164)

Okay, I just read a bit more and it looks like apparently they aren't even *allowed* to take the laptops home, they're just lent out for a couple of lessons. So the laptop WAS stolen, and the camera correctly identified the thief.

Serious Jail Time? (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31210674)

In a perfect world these assholes would fair serious jail time. The laws the allegedly broke are no small matter.

Unless your the government and you break wiretapping laws all the time anyway. Oh wait the school is part of the district, guess they will get away with it then.

the FBI is very concerned... (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31210690)

when other parties try to move in on their turf!

Re:the FBI is very concerned... (1)

TheLink (130905) | more than 4 years ago | (#31210928)

That's how a government stays in power.

It's similar to the way a government stays in power by maintaining a monopoly over violence.

As long as they do a good job of it, people will put up with much.

If the only people that are allowed to kill or bash people up are the Government/Ruling Party, and they usually only happen after a bunch of fairly predictable (and avoidable) events then most people will be fine with that.

That's how dictators stay in power for so long. If you have some confidence that you and your family will still be alive next week, as long as you keep your head down and don't do stuff in the "list of things to NOT do" then most people will put up with all sorts of crap.

So I won't be surprised if Governments tried to have a monopoly on snooping too. There might be massive discontent if so much snooping by random people was allowed. And if just anybody could go around snooping, more people might snoop on the Government (or more importantly the People in Charge)...

Lojack (4, Informative)

florescent_beige (608235) | more than 4 years ago | (#31210692)

If they were really interested in theft recovery why didn't they use a system specifically designed for that purpose. Lojack costs $30/year per machine and I'm sure they would have gotten a volume discount.

Re:Lojack (2, Informative)

AndrewBC (1675992) | more than 4 years ago | (#31210962)

If they were really interested in theft recovery why didn't they use a system specifically designed for that purpose. Lojack costs $30/year per machine and I'm sure they would have gotten a volume discount.

That's exactly what I was thinking. It almost certainly costs less than paying someone to set up the spycurity software, maintain it, watch kids, and that's not even getting into the lawyer fees and the possible damages.

This is all allegations (3, Insightful)

Ma8thew (861741) | more than 4 years ago | (#31210740)

Before we all get carried away decrying this school district, we must bear in mind that almost all the information we have comes from allegations in a lawsuit. The school district are innocent until proven guilty as far as I'm concerned. I have no reason to trust the family's lawyer over the school district's superintendent. The only concrete fact that the two parties agree on is that the laptops have tracking software. The district says they've only used on stolen laptops, while the lawsuit says that it was used in a disciplinary matter. Time will tell which is most accurate.

Re:This is all allegations (5, Informative)

matazar (1104563) | more than 4 years ago | (#31210874)

A lot of news outlets are quoting the vice principal on this:

http://americasright.com/?p=3159 [americasright.com]

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, 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.

Re:This is all allegations (4, Informative)

OzPeter (195038) | more than 4 years ago | (#31210944)

A lot of news outlets are quoting the vice principal on this:

http://americasright.com/?p=3159 [americasright.com]

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, 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.

From the way I read this, a lot of people are quoting the plaintiff's version of what the vice principal said (and probably from the lawsuit), not quoting the vice principal himself. To me that counts as hearsay and is not reliable.

Re:This is all allegations (2, Informative)

Dachannien (617929) | more than 4 years ago | (#31210970)

It's unclear from this statement whether this means that the school had remotely and secretly activated the webcam, or the student's "improper behavior" somehow involved him using the webcam to capture images which were stored on the hard drive and which the school subsequently accessed.

Re:This is all allegations (1)

Opportunist (166417) | more than 4 years ago | (#31211048)

"So in other words, assistant principal Matsko, you admit you were invading the privacy of your pupil?"

Re:This is all allegations (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31210966)

I have no reason to trust the family's lawyer over the school district's superintendent.

In matters involving allegations of this sort against a school district I'd believe an insane, hallucinating, doom-crying bum who has a massive, maggot-infested head wound and suffers from tertiary syphilis before I'd believe a single word uttered by the school district's superintendent because the bum would know he was hopelessly fucked whereas the superintendent is hoping against hope that he can lie his way out of the mess he's in.

Re:This is all allegations (1)

westlake (615356) | more than 4 years ago | (#31211076)

The only concrete fact that the two parties agree on is that the laptops have tracking software.

They agree that the tracking software was not disclosed to the students or their families.

They agree that the use of the webcam by the tracking software was not disclosed to the students or their families.

I believe they agree that the software also send screen captures - which opens another can of worms.

The school - after some un-gentle prodding - admitted that the logs show about 40 uses of the cameras.

It is not so clear who authorized [or could authorize] their use, who could access the cameras, authorized or not, and whether the system was as secure as it needed to be to prevent abuse.

The software used has not been disclosed.

That, I think will, in the end, prove to have been another mistake.

Still Illegal - Doesn't matter why (1)

raftpeople (844215) | more than 4 years ago | (#31211222)

The district says they've only used on stolen laptops

1) It doesn't matter why they used it, it's illegal if it was used in anyone's home.

2) The opportunity for abuse is huge and they absolutely should have informed the parents in advance.

I thought camera's were supposed to make an .... (1)

JDmetro (1745882) | more than 4 years ago | (#31210778)

audible sound (click or some such) to alert people a picture is being taken.

Bullshit on "stolen" computers.. (2, Insightful)

nanospook (521118) | more than 4 years ago | (#31210786)

They claim its used to locate stolen computers and list that 20+ computers (out of 50ish) have been stolen. Unless the laptop is "reported" to the police, as stolen, what does a webcam have to do with locating laptops? IP Addresses, in general, would be sufficient or an embedded GPS device. All visually non-invasive. Webcams could be used as a last resort to identify a thief using a computer. In this case, it looks like this laptop was issued to the kid and the "improper behavior" was obtained from viewing webcam images. What' that have to do with stolen? All of this is easy to think out, especially the privacy issues, so putting the webcams in place was deliberate and bound to be misused. Now they are going to cover up and claim its all about stolen computers.. maybe they are the ones popping pills..

Re:Bullshit on "stolen" computers.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31210902)

It's just an excuse so they could see his little winky.

Who's FBI is this? (4, Funny)

Anne_Nonymous (313852) | more than 4 years ago | (#31210812)

Isn't the FBI in charge of invading our privacy, not protecting it?

Re:Who's FBI is this? (1)

ScrewMaster (602015) | more than 4 years ago | (#31211190)

Isn't the FBI in charge of invading our privacy, not protecting it?

Well, the point is that law enforcement, in general, is not going to look kindly upon this.

Student saved picture onto desktop (Mike & Ike (1)

colfer (619105) | more than 4 years ago | (#31210830)

Did the student save a picture of himself eating Mike & Ike candies at home, which a school teacher or official later noticed on the desktop? That would be different than the school remotely viewing him at home. I'm as suspicious of anyone of authority, but lets get the facts straight. This could be the lawyer fishing on the *ability* the school had, not what it actually did. Both are bad, but one is worse.

The problem for the teacher or whomever is that once they saw the Mike & Ike picture, assumed it was drugs, they may have been required to report it. The whole thing is insidious.

A hardware on/off swich would be nice (1)

ipquickly (1562169) | more than 4 years ago | (#31210834)

MS10-015 patch caused problems on many systems that had malware -
this leads me to believe that many systems have malware.

If anyone were to take control of a system compromised like this,
wouldn't they have access to spy using the camera and microphone?

The problem is that our laptops don't have a "hardware" off switch for the camera and mic.

In the movie "The lives of others", the East-German Government installs a bug in secret.
In 2010, we bring the bugs in ourselves.

this will go nowhere. (3, Insightful)

MickyTheIdiot (1032226) | more than 4 years ago | (#31210886)

I am not a lawyer, but I've investigated Supreme Court decisions on rights of students several times. They always start "The student doesn't shed his or her constitutional rights at the schoolhouse doors, but...." and then go on to describe rights of administrators that describe a situation where the students have no rights.

All the lawyers have to do is describe a reasonable case that the admins were trying to "keep order" in the schoolhouse and this goes nowhere. The Supreme Court has often went out of its way to make school administrators despots in their own little fiefdoms. Anyone that has attended a public school since 1970 knows this.

Re:this will go nowhere. (2, Insightful)

anyGould (1295481) | more than 4 years ago | (#31211020)

I am not a lawyer, but I've investigated Supreme Court decisions on rights of students several times. They always start "The student doesn't shed his or her constitutional rights at the schoolhouse doors, but...." and then go on to describe rights of administrators that describe a situation where the students have no rights.

All the lawyers have to do is describe a reasonable case that the admins were trying to "keep order" in the schoolhouse and this goes nowhere. The Supreme Court has often went out of its way to make school administrators despots in their own little fiefdoms. Anyone that has attended a public school since 1970 knows this.

I think the angle to go with here is that (a) the activities being punished happened off school grounds and on the student's personal time (unless the school wants to start taking responsibility and liability for all actions students take), and thus outside of the fiefdom, and (b) the surveillance extends to persons who are not attending the school (and again, outside the school realm).

Your first assumption is wrong (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31211224)

Students are regularly punished by schools for things that happen off of school grounds. My stepdaughter was suspended for smoking because an administrator saw her smoking a block away from the high school, outside of school hours. Also, I will direct you to the case of the student that was suspended for holding up a sign indicating support for marijuana use at a parade in the downtown area of his home town.

Re:this will go nowhere. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31211232)

The laptop wasn't at school, it was in a private situation in the family home. There's no way school rules and loss of rights extended into peoples' homes.

If this does not violate laws it sure should. (1)

bezenek (958723) | more than 4 years ago | (#31210908)

I cannot imagine--if this did happen as reported--it did not violate laws. If it did NOT violate any federal laws concerning privacy rights, then we need to make sure this IS a violation in the future.

Another note: If they retrieved one photo of someone underage engaged in a sex act (this includes the "m" word, I assume), they are guilty of manufacturing and distribution of c. p, which means 10+ years in federal prison.

What were these people thinking when they set this up?

Re:If this does not violate laws it sure should. (1)

The Archon V2.0 (782634) | more than 4 years ago | (#31211018)

I cannot imagine--if this did happen as reported--it did not violate laws.

How could it not? Doesn't matter what technology you use to do it, either a computer with a webcam or a zoom lens and a slightly-opened curtain or hiding in a closet with a Polaroid, taking pictures of someone without their knowledge or permission while they're in their home is illegal. Hell, just plain old LOOKING without recording it is still illegal.

Another note: If they retrieved one photo of someone underage engaged in a sex act (this includes the "m" word, I assume), they are guilty of manufacturing and distribution of c. p, which means 10+ years in federal prison.

Never mind sex act - a person undressing could be enough.

What were these people thinking when they set this up?

They were thinking of "security" (actually control in the guise of security) and nothing else.

Re:If this does not violate laws it sure should. (1)

Opportunist (166417) | more than 4 years ago | (#31211072)

They were of course thinking of the children!

In what context ... umm... I'm not gonna touch that with a 10 foot pole.

Re:If this does not violate laws it sure should. (1)

ScrewMaster (602015) | more than 4 years ago | (#31211196)

What were these people thinking when they set this up?

More to the point, if the people who are running our schools have so little capacity for critical thinking, what the hell are they doing in charge of our children's education?

Washington Post (1)

ae1294 (1547521) | more than 4 years ago | (#31211054)

The Washington Post has changed the linked article in the last 30 minutes to something about administrators denying everything. Talk about big brother and controlling the masses.

Orwell Method:

Link reads -
http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2010/02/19/us/AP-US-Laptops-Spying-on-Students.html [nytimes.com]

Link should read -
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/02/20/AR2010022000679.html [washingtonpost.com]

The irony of all of this. (1)

houghi (78078) | more than 4 years ago | (#31211228)

So the FBI shows an interest? Are we sure they don't do it to see how they can get away with invading peoples privacy in the future?

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