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A SWAT for enticing kids with computers and then spying on them

Submitted by on Thursday, 18 February 2010 No Comment

Every time Big Guy’s class has a substitute teacher, his regular one says she’ll get a report about their behavior from her “spies” when she gets back.

She’s joking. In a certain school district in suburban Philadelphia, though, the spies could be real, remotely powered and inadvertently invited into the students’ homes.

Parents in the Lower Merion School District thought they were getting a deal when officials vowed to give every high school student a laptop in order to enhance “opportunities for ongoing collaboration, and ensures that all students have 24/7 access to school based resources and the ability to seamlessly work on projects and research at school and at home.”

According to a federal class-action lawsuit, the 24/7 access went two ways when school officials used the computers’ Web cams to watch students in their homes, Courthouse News Service reported. The suit said parents found out about the high-tech peek-a-boo when an assistant principal told a teen that officials knew he “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.”

School officials told the Times-Herald of Norristown, Pa., that they are “committed to protecting the privacy of our students.”

According to the lawsuit, however, the assistant principal confirmed that officials have the ability to remotely activate the Web cams and can view and capture images from the equipment. The parents claim that those capabilities were never disclosed to them. I bet quite a few parents would have said, thanks but no thanks had they known.

Those who defend the school system contend that anyone who accepts a school laptop has no reasonable expectation of privacy. That might be true to a certain extent – it’s well-established that businesses can monitor employees’ online actions on company equipment and schools often use logging software on computers they issue students. It would be stunning if those abilities extend to allowing Web cam spying at any time.

The worst part is the extra paperwork and lawyerizing the Pennsylvania district has caused other schools across the country as officials rush to revise their policies to make it clear that they won’t spy via Web cam on people using school-issue laptops or on school networks.

If the allegations are true, Lower Merion should quickly admit it and move on. Stop Wasting America’s Time by pretending this is even remotely close to right.

Copyright 2010 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.

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