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PA Laptop Spying Inspires FSF Crowdsourcing Effort

timothy posted more than 4 years ago | from the inspiration-comes-from-many-places dept.

Education 135

holmesfsf writes "Creeped out by the Lower Merion School District's remote monitoring of students? Check out the Free Software Foundation's response to the laptop spying scandal and help build a wiki listing of school districts that provide students with laptops, so that the FSF can campaign against mandatory, proprietary laptops."

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Great idea (4, Insightful)

H4x0r Jim Duggan (757476) | more than 4 years ago | (#31463546)

Hopefully this situation will be a stepping stone to help the public understand the role that computers play in our personal lives.

I switched to GNU/Linux in 1998 because lights on my external modem flickered each time I used RealPlayer to play files that were on my own computer.

A better idea: Somebody define "crowdsourcing". (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31463686)

What the fuck is "crowdsourcing"?

I tried to read the Wikipedia article on "crowdsourcing" [wikipedia.org] but it was laden with buzzwords and other marketing bullshit.

Is it just companies and other organizations trying to exploit common folk into doing work for no pay?

Re:A better idea: Somebody define "crowdsourcing". (2, Insightful)

OnlineAlias (828288) | more than 4 years ago | (#31463874)

Why yes, yes it is. However, the crowed usually gets something of value too, a la Google. You get your search results, they get to target advertising and gather statistics on you.

Re:A better idea: Somebody define "crowdsourcing". (1)

suomynonAyletamitlU (1618513) | more than 4 years ago | (#31464022)

Or more simply, it exploits the huge crowd of people interested in a particular outcome and with nothing better to do.

There really are lots who would love to make a difference in some random subjects, like this, but feel like any effort they started on their own would be completely meaningless. So, you just give them all a place to go, and they don't feel like small fries in a big world anymore. Problem solved.

Re:A better idea: Somebody define "crowdsourcing". (1)

Khyber (864651) | more than 4 years ago | (#31465450)

"What the fuck is "crowdsourcing"?"

See "The Price is Right" and you have your answer.

Any other shit you read on wikipedia is nonsense.

Re:Great idea (1)

0100010001010011 (652467) | more than 4 years ago | (#31464028)

GPLv3 tracking software [preyproject.com] Demand opensource! Demand that these school districts spy on their students only using free as in speech software.

yup (0, Troll)

H4x0r Jim Duggan (757476) | more than 4 years ago | (#31464140)

If they do that, then any student can disable it, and every student can then use that one student's non-spying version.

The perfect solution would be to have no spying in the first place, but since you haven't offered any way to do this, having software freedom is indeed the next best solution.

Re:yup (1)

mR.bRiGhTsId3 (1196765) | more than 4 years ago | (#31464628)

Do you really think it's that simple? Do you think, somehow, that students couldn't figure out how to similarly disable whatever software is running to active the webcam if they had known about it. The machine is user configurable. Similarly, having the source is no guarantee of security either unless you think mystic code audit gurus are going to step through the portal from geek nirvana to audit the entire software loadout of every system. As we have seen on numerous previous occasions, having the source is no guarantee of security.

All that is needed is the ability to audit what external connections a program is making. And, since this was discovered there is a class action suit against it. Presuming they win, which imo seems likely, I doubt any other school district will try this.

Re:yup (1)

sqlrob (173498) | more than 4 years ago | (#31464746)

If they don't have root and the BIOS is password protected? I didn't know Linux was that insecure.

Re:Great idea (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31464842)

Moron, you switched to Linux to use a piece of shit media player that didn't ship with support for MP3 out the box and immature sound drivers when .. da da daaaa.. you could have just switched to WinAMP like everyone else in '98.

Don't tell me you didn't notice the resemblance between WinAMP and that piece of shit who's name I forgot that shipped with most "distros" back then.

A REAL Windows hater switched to compile his own code.

Re:Great idea (1)

Dark_Gravity (872049) | more than 4 years ago | (#31465476)

I switched to GNU/Linux in 1998 because lights on my external modem flickered each time I used RealPlayer to play files that were on my own computer.

Did the lights on your modem flicker when using RealPlayer for Linux? [real.com]

Meh. (4, Informative)

XPeter (1429763) | more than 4 years ago | (#31463558)

At the high school I attend, all the desktops and laptops allowed on school property have a form of remote monitoring installed (Web Sense, NetOps, along with Deep Freeze).

The problem is relatively easy to fix, though. I use my home computer as a proxy to get past Web Sense, and give myself admin rights to disable the NetOps and Deep Freeze. All students should know how to do this, and I teach as many how to as I can. Fuck the "monitoring" they do, this isn't China.

Re:Meh. (3, Interesting)

Enleth (947766) | more than 4 years ago | (#31463612)

1. Install VirtualBox.
2. Install Windows as a guest (preferably the same version as host if it is Windows, or some believable version if the host is a *nix or whatever).
3. Start the virtual machine in full-screen mode, with automatic USB and CD pass-through.
4. Let them install all the crap they want, smiling and thanking them for it.
5. Save the sate of the virtual machine just in case it's suddenly needed sometime in the future.
6. ???
7. Prifot, and a crap-free computer with a good VM system installed for other uses.

Re:Meh. (1)

Enleth (947766) | more than 4 years ago | (#31463630)

As a side note, I wish Slashdot swapped the "Submit" and "Continue Editing" buttons. It's too easy to click the former much too quickly by accident, as can be seen in the above post.

Re:Meh. (1)

XPeter (1429763) | more than 4 years ago | (#31463640)

I've thought of doing that as well, but that'd probably work better in something like the Lower Merion case; where the school was supplying students with laptops to take home. This is not the case here, as all the laptops and desktops with said monitoring software are always on school grounds and constantly being used by other students and not just myself.

Re:Meh. (1)

Enleth (947766) | more than 4 years ago | (#31463742)

Ah, OK. I thought you meant that when a student wants to use his own laptop on the school grounds, they want to install some crap on it, as well as installing it on the school hardware.

Re:Meh. (2, Informative)

XPeter (1429763) | more than 4 years ago | (#31463760)

They tried to do that when I started to bring my netbook to school almost daily. I fought them over it, and eventually won the right to keep my netbook free of NetOps and Deep Freeze. All school internet is locked down with WebSense though, which meant I still had to use a proxy.

Re:Meh. (1)

forkazoo (138186) | more than 4 years ago | (#31464256)

1. Install VirtualBox.
2. Install Windows as a guest (preferably the same version as host if it is Windows, or some believable version if the host is a *nix or whatever).
3. Start the virtual machine in full-screen mode, with automatic USB and CD pass-through.
4. Let them install all the crap they want, smiling and thanking them for it.
5. Save the sate of the virtual machine just in case it's suddenly needed sometime in the future.
6. ???
7. Prifot, and a crap-free computer with a good VM system installed for other uses.

Whenever they give out mandatory computers, they include monitoring software which phones home. If it stops phoning home, they'll come and fix it. Consequently, you'd need to use P2V migration tools to migrate the live OS image into your VM, which is a pain. But, at that point, the monitoring software will start reporting changed hardware specs because the configuration of the VM won't match the physical laptop exactly. HDD size, video card type, amount of RAM, probably access to SMBIOS information, etc., will all be reported as wrong or having changed. Then, they'll come and fix it.

Also, they'll threaten you with enormous penalties for having tampered with their property. Possibly expulsion, and refusing to let you graduate.

Re:Meh. (1)

berryjw (1071694) | more than 4 years ago | (#31463644)

Um, dude - you've just admitted to a felony. If it doesn't belong to you, you have no rights to do anything with it, without the owners permission.

Re:Meh. (1)

XPeter (1429763) | more than 4 years ago | (#31463716)

They have no rights to install this software without the students knowledge.

Re:Meh. (1)

maxume (22995) | more than 4 years ago | (#31463750)

How are you working around it if you don't know it is there?

Re:Meh. (1)

XPeter (1429763) | more than 4 years ago | (#31463776)

Obviously being the geek I am I've snooped around and gained knowledge. But 99% of the poor bastards in school have no idea what is really going on, though.

Re:Meh. (1)

maxume (22995) | more than 4 years ago | (#31463936)

If your concern is truly that the other students don't know about it, going to a school board meeting and asking them to make it a district policy to notify users of monitoring software would accomplish a great deal more than subverting the software on the computers that you make use of.

I guess the blocking proxy announces itself pretty well though.

Re:Meh. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31464178)

Creeping crawling jumping leaping flying privacy invasion! Public schools are government bodies that are not playing by the rules namely the 4th amendment!

Re:Meh. (1)

tepples (727027) | more than 4 years ago | (#31464506)

Consider this scenario: All students are informed of the monitoring software installed on school-district-owned computers. If they decline monitoring, the school declines to give credit.

Re:Meh. (2, Interesting)

bmo (77928) | more than 4 years ago | (#31463778)

I call BS.

How is that a felony? Explain using examples and US law.

I'll wait right here.

--
BMO

Re:Meh. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31465134)

Many (most) states have anti-hacking laws that are prosecutable as felonies. Do anything that exceeds your authorization as specified in a school's/company's use policy for its computers, and you're committing a felony. Since we're talking about Lower Marion, here's Pennsylvania's:

18 Pa.C.S.A. 7611
  7611. Unlawful use of computer and other computer crimes
Effective: February 14, 2003

18 Pa.C.S.A. 7611

Purdon's Pennsylvania Statutes and Consolidated Statutes Currentness
Title 18 Pa.C.S.A. Crimes and Offenses (Refs & Annos)
Part II. Definition of Specific Offenses
Article G. Miscellaneous Offenses
Chapter 76. Computer Offenses
Subchapter B. Hacking and Similar Offenses
Current Section 7611. Unlawful use of computer and other computer crimes

(a) Offense defined.--A person commits the offense of unlawful use of a computer if he:

(1) accesses or exceeds authorization to access, alters, damages or destroys any computer, computer system, computer network, computer software, computer program, computer database, World Wide Web site or telecommunication device or any part thereof with the intent to interrupt the normal functioning of a person or to devise or execute any scheme or artifice to defraud or deceive or control property or services by means of false or fraudulent pretenses, representations or promises;
(2) intentionally and without authorization accesses or exceeds authorization to access, alters, interferes with the operation of, damages or destroys any computer, computer system, computer network, computer software, computer program, computer database, World Wide Web site or telecommunication device or any part thereof; or
(3) intentionally or knowingly and without authorization gives or publishes a password, identifying code, personal identification number or other confidential information about a computer, computer system, computer network, computer database, World Wide Web site or telecommunication device.

(b) Grading.--An offense under this section shall constitute a felony of the third degree.

(c) Prosecution not prohibited.--Prosecution for an offense under this section shall not prohibit prosecution under any other section of this title.

Re:Meh. (2, Insightful)

PopeRatzo (965947) | more than 4 years ago | (#31463798)

If it doesn't belong to you, you have no rights to do anything with it, without the owners permission.

Some laws just beg to be broken.

God bless this kid for being ready to perpetrate crimes against the state at such an early age.

When he figures out that the real threat comes from corporate power over our lives, he'll be formidable. We need more 16 year-olds like this.

Re:Meh. (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31464404)

If it doesn't belong to you, you have no rights to do anything with it, without the owners permission.

Some laws just beg to be broken.

God bless this kid for being ready to perpetrate crimes against the state at such an early age.

When he figures out that the real threat comes from corporate power over our lives, he'll be formidable. We need more 16 year-olds like this.

Have you ever worked as a sys admin at a school? You have to lock the hell out of the computers. If you set a room of. say, 20 computers and leave them unlocked by the end of the week you'd be lucky if one is still usable.

Really, what do you expect. You have people being forced to attend an indoctrination camp against their will, so they lash out however they can.

Re:Meh. (1)

Runaway1956 (1322357) | more than 4 years ago | (#31463966)

Dude, whatever you're smoking, I hope I never get any.

Felony? Citation needed. FELONY?!?! Without credible citations, I have to say you're full of something smelly. It's a school, and it's school property. I suppose that if some kids in gym class try playing baseball with a soccer ball, they've committed a felony because they're using the ball in an unapproved manner?

Get real.

Re:Meh. (1)

Low Ranked Craig (1327799) | more than 4 years ago | (#31464010)

Wrong. At most they'd have a civil case against him for the cost to restore the machine.

Re:Meh. (1)

laughingcoyote (762272) | more than 4 years ago | (#31464464)

Are you quite serious?

The school might get upset, and take disciplinary action, but we're most certainly not talking felony territory here. A felony would be cracking into a system you don't have permission to use at all, or outright stealing a laptop (and even that, in many states, would depend how much the laptop is worth). It's not a felony to use a machine you've been granted permission to use. Now, certainly, if you go outside the scope of how you're supposed to use it, they might take it away and take internal disciplinary action, both of which are within their rights. But I have no idea how you think this is a felony.

That being said, even if it technically is, good on them for being willing to do it. Let your students learn how things work, by tinkering with them (and if need be, learning how to break locks someone attempts to put on your stuff). Give them full admin rights, make it crystal clear that the students (and parents) are fully and solely responsible for what's done with the machine, and wipe and reburn it every time it comes back in to go to a different student. Don't lock everything down all to hell. When I was in school myself, we had unfettered Net access and admin accounts on every machine in the school, because no one knew it was even possible to try to lock a system down. And we learned from it, and the sky didn't fall. The world wouldn't be a worse place for a little less paranoia and a little more tinkering.

Re:Meh. (1)

bmo (77928) | more than 4 years ago | (#31464136)

Some free tech advice. Take it or leave it.

Disabling DeepFreeze is silly, because it's far more effective at combating malware than any "close the barn door after the horse has bolted" anti-virus.

Maybe disabling DeepFreeze helps you get away from being net-nannied but then you become vulnerable to the likes of the Russian Business Network.

Enter DeepFreeze password
Make your changes (like your VPN)
Refreeze

Just make sure you put it back when you return the laptop, out of courtesy.

You never said they would take my cap and gown (1, Insightful)

westlake (615356) | more than 4 years ago | (#31464150)

The problem is relatively easy to fix, though. All students should know how to do this, and I teach as many how to as I can. Fuck the "monitoring" they do, this isn't China.

Did you to a lawyer about the risks you and the students are taking?

Their parents and guardians?

The ones who will be in no very forgiving mood when their kids miss graduation?

Did you talk to your wife?

Ever hear the phrase "Jail Bait?"

Mucking around with minors and the law is dangerous:

"Twenty-seven year old geek arrested as ringleader in local high school kiddie porn bust."

The school locks down its system to avoid even the remote possibility of being tainted by stories like this.

Re:You never said they would take my cap and gown (1)

Skapare (16644) | more than 4 years ago | (#31465030)

But, quite obviously, they don't lock them down right. If the smart kids can open 'em back up, and the supposed lock down just inhibits other proper uses, then it's done wrong. The right way would be to lock them down in a way that allows all law abiding activity appropriate for kids of age involved, while prohibiting all else, and done in a way even the smart geek kids know isn't worth bothering to crack. It's the school admins that need much educating if a bunch of kids know more than they do.

Re:You never said they would take my cap and gown (1)

gnapster (1401889) | more than 4 years ago | (#31465350)

What the deuce? It seems pretty clear that GP is a student, not a teacher. XPeter might have to worry about their own graduation, but really; Jailbait? Take a chill pill.

Re:Meh. (1)

bertoelcon (1557907) | more than 4 years ago | (#31464704)

We had some of that in my highschool. Those who could get around it didn't try to teach the others though, we just put all the steps in a .bat file and copied the file onto flash drives.

Let's not mince words. (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31463568)

Anyone advocating the use of these spy laptops are two things:
1) PERVERTS
2) PEDOPHILES

Re:Let's not mince words. (1)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | more than 4 years ago | (#31464638)

3) or PEDAGOGUES ...oh, wait...

I wonder about "Free" (2, Interesting)

MerlynDavis (637066) | more than 4 years ago | (#31463608)

FTA: "any proprietary software is a computer that you don't control". How many people know half of what's going on with "Free" software? How many people not "into" tech know why free software is any different? And, how much free software is actually so thoroughly audited that everyone knows everything it does?

At some point, you have to take someone's word that the software you are loading on your computer is "trustworthy", unless you're going to write it all yourself. And even then, how much of that code is going to be your own, and how much will be copied from elsewhere?

Free software isn't inherently more trustworthy, it simply moves the trust relationship around.

FS is the best situation life's offering (0, Troll)

H4x0r Jim Duggan (757476) | more than 4 years ago | (#31463696)

There's no proposal that can solve everything. Of the proposals that exist today, free software is just far and away the best situation life's offering.

It's not about *you* being free to read and change the source or distribute modified versions, it's about *all users* being able to do this. "freedom 3 [gnu.org] " makes this clear:

"The freedom to distribute copies of your modified versions to others (freedom 3). By doing this you can give the whole community a chance to benefit from your changes. Access to the source code is a precondition for this."

It's about allowing people to help each other, building an empowered community. If the situation is serious enough, anyone can take a look, or find/pay someone else to take a look. And even if the situation doesn't seem serious, there's still the possibility that someone will be taking a look at the code anyway. And once one person does this, then all users can benefit from that person's exercise of their freedoms.

The possibility of these things happening is usually enough to dissuade software publishers from putting nastyware into free software in the first place.

So, you're theory just predicts a problem that's possible but which is non-existant or practically non-existant in reality.

Re:I wonder about "Free" (1)

dfcamara (1268174) | more than 4 years ago | (#31463758)

Free software IS inherently more trustworthy. Maybe it's not that easy to audit, or that isn't enough people auditing every major project, but it's in a degree above of audibility from closed source applications.

Re:I wonder about "Free" (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31463804)

It's laughable that some GNU nuts think that C source code is impossible to obfuscate while proprietary software is impossible to disassemble! Or maybe they think the CVS repositories their software comes from receive more eyeballs than products that have ~90% desktop market share... Ridiculous!

A person injecting backdoors into proprietary software would be identified, held accountable, and never work in the software industry again. A company selling software with deliberate backdoors would quickly find itself exposed, boycotted, and out of business. A person injecting harmful open source code, on the other hand, can remain perfectly anonymous, and the project maintainers would lose nothing. It is also much easier to compromise one of countless CVS and mirror servers (and ISO's downloaded via BitTorrent especially) than it is to compromise shrink-wrapped software and updates that come from a centralized source.

It's true that Microsoft had habitually put usability (or "n00b appeal"), execution speed, and lower tech support costs ahead of security, but that is already starting to change. Microsoft computers are more vulnerable because more n00bs use them - if they used Linux they'd be just as vulnerable or worse! They're also more targeted by hackers for ideological anti-capitalist reasons, and by scammers because people who run Microsoft software are less likely to be broke college kids with nothing that's worth stealing.

All things being equal, proprietary software is always more secure than open source, at least because you know whose neck to choke if something goes wrong!

And remember that the entity most interested in spying on you is your government, who don't need to screw around with software in order to do it! And governments love open source software, which after the collapse of the private software industry would be funded at tax-victim expense and ever more government control!

(Signed: Alex Libman's sock-puppet)

Re:I wonder about "Free" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31463968)

The above post is so full of shit, I had to say it - perhaps to prevent others from bothering to read it. Pure waste of 74 seconds.

Re:I wonder about "Free" (1)

hoggoth (414195) | more than 4 years ago | (#31464346)

72 seconds, mouth-breather.

Re:I wonder about "Free" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31464044)

Forgot to mention that the next big leap in security is rewriting the operating system in managed code, and Microsoft is like 5 years ahead of open source in that effort already!

Re:I wonder about "Free" (2, Insightful)

PopeRatzo (965947) | more than 4 years ago | (#31463824)

Free software isn't inherently more trustworthy, it simply moves the trust relationship around.

"Moving the trust around" is hardly as trivial as you make it sound.

In fact, it's the way truly free societies are supposed to work. You could sum up the philosophy of the US Constitution with the words "Move the Trust Around".

Re:I wonder about "Free" (3, Insightful)

pla (258480) | more than 4 years ago | (#31463960)

At some point, you have to take someone's word that the software you are loading on your computer is "trustworthy", unless you're going to write it all yourself.

Yes and no.

Yes, I don't personally audit every line of code I run on my computers, so in that sense I "trust" the FOSS community to act as a pretty damned effective first-line defense against most of the common crap commercial vendors try to pull (whether Sony rootkits or WGA or Energizer's recent scandal).

But also "No", in that if I notice some suspicious activity in a program I use, I can have the relevant source open in front of me five minutes later to see why it did what it did - Did it just get confused by a DNS timeout? Did it legitimately (it not necessarily with my permission) try to update itself to handle my request? Did it try to report everything I've done in the past 24 hours to a remote server in China under the guise of a "bug report"? With commercial software, I can at best block its action at the firewall and see what breaks; With FOSS, I can know what it did and act accordingly.


Free software isn't inherently more trustworthy, it simply moves the trust relationship around.

Yep, it does. And I'll trust a million strangers with no commercial interest in my life over a single CEO who sees me as a "resource" any day of the week, thankyouverymuch. And as a side-bonus, it also places more of that burden of trust right back on my shoulders. And while I may not always act in my own best interest, I do unwaveringly trust myself.

Who ya gonna trust! (1)

pentalive (449155) | more than 4 years ago | (#31465120)

Pla, I mostly agree with you but I want to expand your point...

But also "No", in that if I notice some suspicious activity in a program I use, I can have the relevant source open in front of me five minutes later to see why it did what it did

You didn't say it but you probably would re-compile from those sources and compare the binaries too.

Crowdsurfing (1)

garethw (584688) | more than 4 years ago | (#31463620)

Every time I see the word crowdsourcing, I read it as crowdsurfing. I, for one, try to avoid being near anywhere that RMS is crowdsurfing.

Yet another example of "F"SF using gov force... (0, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31463648)

All schools should be private and accountable to their customers (i.e. parents / guardians). Parents can even hire private services to spy on their kids via cameras and other means, in their own home or not. But this is a case of "tragedy of the commons" - everyone gets the same crummy overpriced tyrannical one-size-fits-all solution, whether you like it or not. Every time the government screws up, the socialists seize the opportunity to reward the government with more power and funding (their logic, not mine), and the "F"SF is no exception.

They already use government force as much as proprietary software does (if not more so, because proprietary software could exist without government through explicit privately-enforceable contracts, while copyleft could not), but they want more - a monopoly, government funding of socialist software, and then total government control of everything that has a microchip!

Real freedom comes from balance of power and free market competition, not blind faith in an all-powerful "authority"!

Re:Yet another example of "F"SF using gov force... (1)

ettlz (639203) | more than 4 years ago | (#31463678)

OK, the AC is trolling, but assuming it is being serious (it's hard to tell sometimes when it comes to libertarianism):

proprietary software could exist without government through explicit privately-enforceable contracts

What form should this "enforcement" take?

Re:Yet another example of "F"SF using gov force... (1)

maxwell demon (590494) | more than 4 years ago | (#31463812)

OK, the AC is trolling, but assuming it is being serious (it's hard to tell sometimes when it comes to libertarianism):

proprietary software could exist without government through explicit privately-enforceable contracts

What form should this "enforcement" take?

I think the Mafia has developed quite a few methods of private enforcement. Maybe you could license them from there. :-)

Re:Yet another example of "F"SF using gov force... (1)

ettlz (639203) | more than 4 years ago | (#31465566)

Ah. So basically beefcake and guns.

Re:Yet another example of "F"SF using gov force... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31463866)

Do you really expect an Anonymous Coward to undo decades of government brainwashing you've received in one post?!

Curl up with some Murray Rothbard books and RTFM for yourself!

Re:Yet another example of "F"SF using gov force... (1)

pentalive (449155) | more than 4 years ago | (#31465264)

How can you have any balance of power between a computer owner and a OS producer when that OS producer can control the information shared between them. This is a free market of

[farmer]"Here is a big box with a healthy live pig in it, buy it from me",

[buyer]"Can I see the pig",

[farmer]"no"

Sure I could go to another pig farmer that does not crate up his pigs, or at least opens the box for inspection - oh, wait, that's open source.

Sometime an authority is needed because the pig buyer who cares to see the pig has no power to force the pig-in-the-box farmer to show it. There is no "balance of power"

Heart in right place. Head somewhere else entirel (1)

bmo (77928) | more than 4 years ago | (#31463668)

"so that the FSF can campaign against mandatory, proprietary laptops."

As if Free Non Proprietary Laptops won't in any way be used to spy on students.

THIS IS THE WRONG BATTLE, FSF.

The battle should be for privacy, not against proprietary laptops.

I say this as a Free Software user.

--
BMO

Re:Heart in right place. Head somewhere else entir (1)

langelgjm (860756) | more than 4 years ago | (#31463764)

I had the same thought at first, but the summary says both mandatory and proprietary. I don't think they should ask schools to stop using or offering proprietary software, that's unrealistic, but what is the need to make it mandatory? If a student or their family truly wants to opt out for some reason, that should be permitted.

Re:Heart in right place. Head somewhere else entir (1)

bmo (77928) | more than 4 years ago | (#31463976)

As far as I know, you can opt out of having the school laptop. Even if they don't allow you to opt out on paper, you can still keep the thing in a closet and return it at the end of the school year.

The problem is monitoring software. This was likely illegal since these students *can't* agree to it legally (they can't sign contracts) and the parents didn't know it was there, either. At last check, the FBI was investigating the school for ECPA violation. I hope someone goes to jail over this.

Free software is not a panacea. There is nothing physically preventing the installation of monitoring software on a laptop running Free software. However, we *can* enforce laws already on the books that prevent things like this from happening.

It's a little too late to donate copies of Netlaw by Lance Rose to the school administration.

--
BMO

Re:Heart in right place. Head somewhere else entir (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31464224)

> The battle should be for privacy, not against proprietary laptops

Yes, exactly. The only reason there is no remote camera monitoring software for free OSs is that there aren't enough of them around in such environments for anyone to have bothered to write it. There's nothing whatsoever about an open source OS that would prevent the school from monitoring students using that.

The real issue here is privacy, as the parent post says.

So when will RMS stop using his? (0, Troll)

DAldredge (2353) | more than 4 years ago | (#31463680)

When will RMS stop using his proprietary laptop?

Re:So when will RMS stop using his? (1)

langelgjm (860756) | more than 4 years ago | (#31463766)

Last I heard RMS was using a Longsoon based machine from China that supposedly has open technical specs, etc.

Re:So when will RMS stop using his? (1, Interesting)

maxwell demon (590494) | more than 4 years ago | (#31463782)

And was the machine actually built according to those specs? Did he verify it?

Re:So when will RMS stop using his? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31464470)

Whats your point? Airplane technology is proprietary, should RMS therefore never fly?

What childish argument. What have YOU ever contributed to the world child?

Re:So when will RMS stop using his? (1)

jo_ham (604554) | more than 4 years ago | (#31465232)

No, it's not a childish argument at all when RMS himself goes to just such rhetoric. RMS is very vocal about Free meaning totally free - not using any proprietary stuff at all (eg, video drivers, H.264 codec, mp3 etc), so why not extend that to the computer he is using. I assume he has all the schematics in his house, including board layouts and component lists, and none of the individual components use any patented or non-free technology like the CPU, chips etc.

The FSF here has chosen to exploit the messy business from PA and use it to say "hey look, this is why proprietary software is bad" when it's really not the software's fault here - this was entirely a human decision. It's no different to someone campaigning to have violent video games banned because the guy who shot up a school played Counterstrike.

Also "child" really is unnecessary, especially when posting AC - you are trying to look wizened and experienced, but you just come off looking silly.

Re:So when will RMS stop using his? (1)

DAldredge (2353) | more than 4 years ago | (#31463784)

The Longsoon processor contains patented technology licensed from MIPS.

Re:So when will RMS stop using his? (1)

langelgjm (860756) | more than 4 years ago | (#31463818)

Actually the WP article [wikipedia.org] on the subject says the processor was specifically designed to avoid infringing the patent, but that they bought a license to be able to sell it as "MIPS compatible".

Then later they supposedly licensed entire architectures from MIPS, but IIRC what I read about RMS's machine dates before that happened. Also just because they license the architecture doesn't mean what they produce is potentially patent infringing; they could just be playing it safe to avoid trouble.

Besides the point (1)

maxwell demon (590494) | more than 4 years ago | (#31463708)

The author is completely besides the point:

When the software on your computer is proprietary, then you can't know whether the light is coming on because of a glitch or because the camera is actually running.
Unless you both know programming and have lots of time to dig into the code, you don't know either (and even then, the machine might have been manipulated already at the BIOS level, and may be hiding the changes from you).

But even more to the point: The original source he quotes explains:
The webcam couldn't be disabled due to tough security settings.
That is, the students had not been given all the control the operating system could provide them. The exact same could have happened under Linux, if they had not been given root privileges, or if the root rights were restricted through SELinux. Free Software doesn't magically get you into control of a system (inded, I'd have more control over a machine running a proprietary DOS than over one running Linux where I don't have root privilege).

Re:Besides the point (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31463788)

If a student had a supposedly non-trusted debian install on their laptop, they would have recourse. Re-install it. With windows this would be hard. They would need recovery disks (which are different for every laptop sometimes) and all of the proprietary software disks that need to be loaded later.

It should be obvious that this is far easier to fix using linux. If you don't trust the specific software install, you can re-do it.

The BIOS-level stuff is mostly a non-issue. Sure it could happen, but nobody with a decent amount of sense throws in the towel because there isn't a 100% solution available. We should push for open BIOSes too.

Re:Besides the point (1)

maxwell demon (590494) | more than 4 years ago | (#31463948)

If a student had a supposedly non-trusted debian install on their laptop, they would have recourse. Re-install it.

This is besides the point. The point isn't that you can't do anything about it after you detected it. Covering up the web cam was an easy fix for that specific problem; using another laptop is an ultimate recourse for any problem with a given laptop. If you argue they might not be allowed to use another laptop, I'll answer that they are most likely not allowed to reinstall Debian as well. Indeed, they would likely come with booting from external media disabled and BIOS password set. You'd most certainly not be allowed to physically open that laptop, so no hardware BIOS password reset.

But again, that wasn't really the point. The point is detecting whether you can trust the current installation in the first place. To quote TFA again:
When the software on your computer is proprietary, then you can't know whether the light is coming on because of a glitch or because the camera is actually running. You can't tell if your hard drive is spinning because you're using it, or because someone else is using it. Only free software gives you the freedom to find the answers to these questions.
The point is, even with free software you cannot find the answers to those questions if you are not given the necessary privileges. Yes, you can just assume the worst and act accordingly (as those who covered the webcam with tape did).

With windows this would be hard. They would need recovery disks (which are different for every laptop sometimes) and all of the proprietary software disks that need to be loaded later.

Given that in the concrete case it was Mac computers, it's completely irrelevant how hard or easy it is to reinstall Windows. More generally, this is about general free vs. proprietary; any deficiencies of specific proprietary software are irrelevant for this discussion (as are any deficiencies of specific free software).

Re:Besides the point (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31464138)

The FSF is not advocating DRM'd laptops running free software. BIOS lockdown is possible, but clearly not relevant to this discussion. Free has two meanings.

Mac or not (lots of schools use laptops, not all mac), the fact is that students are not in a position to remove untrusted software through a re-install since they don't have installation media. A debian iso can be downloaded and burned legally from any trusted pc. This is entirely relavent to the discussion.

I could re-install a laptop on day one if it ran linux and be sure there was no spyware from the school on it. No need for tape. With proprietary software this becomes much more difficult.

Re:Besides the point (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31464342)

A BIOS locked laptop running GPLv3 software would most likely be in violation of the GPLv3.

Re:Besides the point (1)

maxwell demon (590494) | more than 4 years ago | (#31464364)

Mac or not (lots of schools use laptops, not all mac), the fact is that students are not in a position to remove untrusted software through a re-install since they don't have installation media.

Buying a copy of Windows or OS X in a shop is completely legal as well. Yes, it will cost you money, but that's a completely unrelated issue. Also, without lockdown there would be no reason why you couldn't just make a hard disk image of the existing system, install and use Linux, and then put the hard disk image back before returning the computer.

But again, and this time in bold:

FTA does not talk about fixing things after having detected that something bad is going on, it talks about finding out whether something bad is going on in the first place.

I'm not going to quote the relevant parts again.

And yes, BIOS lockdown is exactly relevant in the discussion. After all, the problem wasn't that OS X didn't allow to disable the webcam, the point was that this option was locked down. That's the whole point. The laptops were locked down, and they almost certainly would have been locked down as well even if they had been running Linux. The problem was not about proprietary vs. free, the problem was of locked-down vs. open. The author argued that it is about free vs. proprietary, which is besides the point.

Note that giving wrong arguments for free software actually harms free software, as it gives opponents examples of bad arguments for it, which they can use to give the impression that all arguments for free software were that bad, which they of course aren't. IMHO it is the responsibility of the free software advocates (and especially the FSF) to make sure their arguments remain reasonable, so they don't destroy the credibility of the reasonable arguments through unreasonable ones.

Re:Besides the point (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31464436)

I think what you are missing is that this isn't either or. They are against lack of freedom on all fronts. They are against DRM (locked BIOS), and they are against locked (proprietary) software.

Both are parts of the same problem that led to this.

They aren't saying we should have an unlocked BIOS with proprietary software, or a locked BIOS with free software. They are saying everybody agrees on the DRM issue (locked BIOS), so now we should push harder for free software too.

Read the article again and I bet you will agree with me. They want students to have complete control over their laptops. Free software is just one component of it. Just search for DRM in the article if you don't want to spend a lot of time. It is right there.

Re:Besides the point (1)

maxwell demon (590494) | more than 4 years ago | (#31464614)

I think what you are missing is that this isn't either or. They are against lack of freedom on all fronts. They are against DRM (locked BIOS), and they are against locked (proprietary) software.

And I don't have an issue with that. I only have an issue with making wrong arguments to this goal. BTW, setting a password on the BIOS IMHO doesn't count as DRM. After all, it's not the vendor who sets the password.

Both are parts of the same problem that led to this.

This is where I disagree. First, without lock down, even the proprietary OS X would have allowed them to disable the webcam. Second, even with Linux, they could have locked down the computer.

Free software has a big advantage when it comes to trusting the software vendor. It's not very relevant when it comes to trusting the computer owner (i.e. in this case, the school). In that case, lockdown is the issue.

Re:Besides the point (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31464686)

IINAL, but I think the school is legally the vendor here. That would be a huge loophole if you could pass the buck and say only Apple/Dell/etc need to follow the GPLv3.

The point was that with proprietary software, you might incorrectly think you disabled the webcam. You won't really know. You would need to illegally disassemble the software to be sure. With free software you can distrust any part of it to whatever degree you desire, and verify things legally.

You are still arguing that locked down linux has similar problems, even after I pasted from the article showing that they think students need complete control. It isn't one or the other, it is both. No lock down. Not in the BIOS, not in the software.

Re:Besides the point (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31464524)

I'm posting from my phone, but I'll try a copy/paste:

"Once people use computers they don't completely control, that provides both a technical basis and a social/political slippery slope for sleazy sysadmins leering at your kids--or any other violation you can imagine.

And to be completely clear, when we say "computers they don't control" we aren't just talking about computers with DRM, backdoors, and monitoring software. Any computer running Windows, Mac OS X, Flash, or any proprietary software is a computer that you don't control. This includes not just laptops and desktops, but also things like a Kindle, an iPhone, or an iPad."

They don't believe that free software is the solution. They believe that free software is a large part of the solution.

Re:Besides the point (1)

Belial6 (794905) | more than 4 years ago | (#31464862)

It seems to me that if the school were using GPL software, then it doesn't matter if they lock down the computer. They still have to supply the source code.

Excuse me? (3, Insightful)

berryjw (1071694) | more than 4 years ago | (#31463744)

For all those with a knee-jerk reaction to this, consider it from this perspective: You've just spent millions of dollars, building a network infrastructure, programming servers and switches and routers, creating images and an environment to handle all of this, all for a very specific task. You're saying there's *nothing wrong* with me using what you've built, however I want to, and you've no right to watch how I use it? If so, I'm coming to your place, no reason for me to ever spend a dime on tech! Hmm, does this logic apply to your car? Or bank account???

Re:Excuse me? (4, Insightful)

lena_10326 (1100441) | more than 4 years ago | (#31463862)

Spending millions of dollars and loaning out hardware doesn't give school officials the right to remotely activate and control the laptop webcam and spy on children in their own bedrooms--potentially while undressing. People are pissed not due to knee jerk reaction, but because what the school did was fucking creepy.

Re:Excuse me? (3, Funny)

bmo (77928) | more than 4 years ago | (#31464300)

No, you don't get to monitor people through your network, unless it's for monitoring how the network is working. Not without notification to the users (who in this case can't sign a contract legally).

You *do not* get carte blanche to monitor users simply because you spent money and built a network. In order to do that, you need to get a waiver from the users of that network.

If you're going to secretly monitor minors using your network, you are a creepy fuck and you deserve to go to jail because you've just violated the ECPA.

*BMO throws a copy of the ECPA and a copy of Netlaw at your head*

--
BMO

Governance (3, Insightful)

DaveGod (703167) | more than 4 years ago | (#31463768)

The issue isn't proprietary laptops nor the student's control over them. It's bad governance. A bad decision arising from good intentions simply not thought out nor with proper controls and disclosure in place.

With good governance they never should have made a decision that would so obviously bring the school into such disrepute. With proper controls they could demonstrate how the function could not be abused, or at a minimum that abuse would be detected. With proper disclosure the school kids and their parents could have objected and this farce never would have happened even with the school having made the bad decision. With proper disclosure there is an entirely different scope for alarm - spying on kids with their knowledge is appalling but without them knowing, that's really something.

Using non-proprietary laptops merely adds one avenue for detection of the wrongdoing here. It's trivial compared to the other causes of the failure that need to be rectified, starting with the removal of the entire board responsible for the decision because of their utterly incompetent governance.

Re:Governance (1)

Paul Fernhout (109597) | more than 4 years ago | (#31464978)

Well said. Wish I had mod points right now.

Opportunism (4, Insightful)

Ralish (775196) | more than 4 years ago | (#31463860)

Is it just me, or does this just reek of opportunism? What the school in question did was appalling, but it has nothing to do with the open-source vs. closed-source debate, or the proprietary vs. open debate, it's just raw and basic ethics. This is about people's basic right to privacy, as well as the ethical conduct of system administrators. Windows doesn't stop you installing open-source software, and Linux doesn't stop you installing proprietary software. Neither operating system will stop a system administrator from installing nasty software.

Presumably the FSF would feel a lot better about this if the students were being spied on from laptops running Linux with open-source spying software? We could mask the presence with an open-source rootkit, and upload the data to a FreeBSD server running Apache and a MySQL database. Then this would be just fine. Groups that hijack legitimate issues in order to advance their own agenda are sickening. Jack Thompson likes to do this to advocate video game restrictions, pro & anti gun control groups do this whenever the latest gun violence story hits the news, and now the FSF joins in. I knew they'd been progressively losing sanity over the years, but I thought even this was beneath them.

Windows Vista/7 64-bit kernel mode code signing (2, Informative)

tepples (727027) | more than 4 years ago | (#31464716)

Windows doesn't stop you installing open-source software

The 64-bit version of Windows blocks installation of unsigned software that runs in kernel mode. It also blocks installation of such software signed with a homemade certificate unless you start the computer in "Test Mode", in which case always-on-top "Test Mode" notices appear in the corners of the screen.

Re:Windows Vista/7 64-bit kernel mode code signing (1)

Blakey Rat (99501) | more than 4 years ago | (#31465446)

You didn't get around to disputing the grandparent's point.

Windows *doesn't* stop you from installing open source software. There are no rules against having an open source driver certified with WHQL.

Now you can complain that no open source groups have done that, if that's even true, but that's hardly Microsoft's fault, now is it?

Re:Windows Vista/7 64-bit kernel mode code signing (1)

tepples (727027) | more than 4 years ago | (#31465578)

There are no rules against having an open source driver certified with WHQL.

What you say is true of some licenses, but it defeats what some advocates feel is the point of free software. GNU General Public License version 3 requires those who distribute binaries to provide Installation Information at marginal cost along with the rest of a covered work's Corresponding Source. In the case of Windows KMCS, Installation Information appears to include the private key of your code signing certificate, and disclosing it violates the certificate's contract. One way to work around this would involve convincing all contributors to grant a license exception for Windows KMCS.

Re:Opportunism (3, Informative)

PhysicsGeek42 (1452309) | more than 4 years ago | (#31464768)

The FSF is not about open source software. The FSF is about protecting the personal freedoms of computer users. As such, a case like this where the privacy of computer users is compromised without their consent is of great interest to the FSF.

Re:Opportunism (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31464772)

Thank you. Very well said.

Re:Opportunism (2, Insightful)

Skapare (16644) | more than 4 years ago | (#31464974)

This event opened our eyes to the POTENTIAL for abuse by a group of people that typically is known for a greater propensity to be abusive.

And there are issues about even the program itself. For example, requiring kids to use that computer and not the one that they already have at home, which for some can be a space issue (where do I put it). It also imposes property care obligations on people that don't necessarily need to have it. In some cases students cannot leave their school provided laptops at school in the lockers and are required to take them home every day, which may be an environment with a greater chance of being stolen (and then the student be blamed for not taking proper care).

It would just be simpler if the schools would let the program be optional, though opt-in at any time. Let kids use their own computers when and where they like (but the school is not liable for problems with the kids own computers). Accept all known formats for assignment turn-in. Ignorance of teachers (to deal with Open Office formats, which they can do for free on any computer, so money is not an excuse) is no excuse.

And tell the schools to quit whining about budgets unless they are using the lowest cost solutions for their computers.

people still don't know the real story in PA (1, Insightful)

perotbot (632237) | more than 4 years ago | (#31464046)

Facts: 1. the school told students who did not pay the laptop fee to not remove the laptops from school 2. the kid's parents did not pay the fee 3. kide removed laptop 4. school staff randomly inventoried laptops 5. school staff discovered laptop missing 6. staff activated anti theft program... Student broke rules and got busted, doesn't matter if it was a laptop or getting caught smoking on school surveilance web cam. how is this any different than someone using MoblieMe to find their missing iphones??

Re:people still don't know the real story in PA (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31464634)

Facts: ...

Student broke rules and got busted, doesn't matter if it was a laptop or getting caught smoking on school surveilance web cam.

how is this any different than someone using MoblieMe to find their missing iphones??

It's different because of the potential to take pictures of a child while he/she was dressing 'exposes' the picture taker to child pornography laws, especially when the kids did not know about the camera. It only takes a SINGLE picture to put the person taking the picture at risk for years of prison time.

Re:people still don't know the real story in PA (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31464684)

Student broke rules and got busted, doesn't matter if it was a laptop or getting caught smoking on school surveilance web cam

Single most important fact, which you neglected: He didn't get busted for taking the laptop home, he got busted because the photograph taken by the surveillance cam made somebody believe he was popping pills.

He got busted by the school for behavior that did not happen at school. Nevermind the fact that the "pills" turned out to be candy, because it's not even relevant. I don't care if he was shooting up, they shouldn't have had the ability to "catch" him in his own home.

Re:people still don't know the real story in PA (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31464860)

It's different for one very important reason: The parents and children were never informed of the presence of this capability, and never had an opportunity to consent to it. Furthermore, it's not clear if it would be legal even with informed consent.

Correcting your analogy of "getting caught smoking on the school surveillance cam", you could say that the school had extended its surveillance cam into every student's home. Possibly legal? I don't know, but certainly not without informing those parents/children that this is possible.

that is irelevent (1)

mjwalshe (1680392) | more than 4 years ago | (#31464970)

its diferent as the system was set up in such a way that it would produce child porn - which is a strict liabilitry offence. If they just had an ability to track the location they would be fine.

Why has the pricipal and the entire tech team not been suspened/fired and be under investigation?

Re:people still don't know the real story in PA (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31464998)

You need to read the constitution. The school is the government and monitored him in his home without a warrant.

Re:people still don't know the real story in PA (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31465038)

Vigilantism is illegal based on the second ammendment. Welcome to America! But don't worry, when we do find out someone was bad, bounty hunting is legal!

proprietary laptops (1)

KevMar (471257) | more than 4 years ago | (#31464412)

I don't know about the proprietary laptops comment. I guess I don't care if its a proprietary laptop or not, but they should be standardized.

It would be a total mess is they didn't keep some control of the computers and hardware. All the hardware should be the same. This makes it so much easier for the IT department when every single laptop is the same model number. This makes replacements easy. If its hardware, swap the hard drive into a spare unit and everything works. All the drivers are the same. If its a reinstall, its just 5-10 min to load from a standard ghost image. I know you can get driver packs for those images, but its so nice when you know the few drivers you need.

Thats also where deep freeze comes in. Keeps the computer clean from user mistakes. We tried deep freeze and it didn't work for us, but I love the idea behind it.

Could not resist (1, Funny)

Max_W (812974) | more than 4 years ago | (#31464496)

In Soviet Russia the laptop is watching you. No...wait...

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