ACLU and EFF on school where spy-laptops were mandatory


28 Responses to “ACLU and EFF on school where spy-laptops were mandatory”

  1. Anonymous says:

    It’s true, a lot of “grown-ups” think “minors” are objects and property. And obsess about “punishing” them.

  2. Anonymous says:

    If you’re interested in the LMSD webcam scandal, check out the Frontline Digital Nation Audiocast ~49 min in. They interview a school principal and he discusses his use of this type of surveillance. Apparently this is SOP at many schools.

  3. WeightedCompanionCube says:

    Wait, what? Did the EFF and ACLU actually give a statement that made SENSE? Did Cory remember to use the word “alleged” instead of implying concrete fact? Crap. I’m gonna have to defrost my basement.

    You want a great blog post on this issue?
    Robert X. Cringely sums up the issue nicely, pointing out that even if there WAS no intentional wrongdoing, such irresponsible use of technology will be misconstrued …

    … Until he shoots himself in the foot with:

    You wouldn’t give a crack pipe and a gun to a monkey and set him loose in a crowd. Likewise, you shouldn’t give Big Brotherish software to school districts and expect them not to misuse it.

    Monkeys with crack pipes and guns?

    Nah, that couldn’t possibly be taken the wrong way. *facepalm*

  4. jackbird says:

    Best article I’ve seen on the tech side (albeit a bit breathless):

    The LMSD netadmin comes off like a major creep.

  5. adonai says:

    Ubuntu live CDs, my friends. Never leave home without one.

  6. Anonymous says:

    i’m applying tape over the camera on my laptop now.

  7. Anonymous says:

    It doesn’t really matter, its almost certainly against state laws regarding intrusion. Why does it have to be a federal crime?

  8. Revan343 says:

    Firmware passwords can be bypassed on windows machines, I would assume the same is also possible on a mac (these were macs, right? I read somewhere (Lifehacker, or Giz, I think) that they were, but I’m not sure). It’s harder on a laptop, sure, but it should still be possible to reset the BIOS. Of course, that leaves evidence that you did so…

    • davidasposted says:

      Or you could put tape over the web cam, like Anon #1 suggests.

    • PaulR says:

      BIOS passwords may or may not be reset. If you forget your Supervisor password on some (all?) Lenovo laptops, you’re screwed – it can’t be reset.

  9. IMoriarty says:

    Beside all the expected privacy concerns

    Why would the school open themselves to this issue in the first place? What did they hope to gain? Did they really expect to be able to punish students for behavior off school grounds?

    What about the possibility of webcam capture of one of the students undressed? Wouldn’t that hold the school liable for child pornography? Who thought that risk was acceptable?

    From what little I know of this case, there is far too much that simply makes no sense, and I have trouble coming up with a logical set of circumstances where it does.


  10. Grey Devil says:

    I’ve been reading up on all the blog posts related to the case and i’m still shocked over the extent of the issue. The fact that these laptops were mandatory and that students couldnt use their own computers is even more frightening to me. I hope this lawsuit sets a precedent against snooping on students.

  11. Tom Hale says:

    I’ve seen a BIOS password get reset by using a paper clip to short two pins on a certain chip in an IBM laptop – I imagine this could be done on other computers as well.

  12. Anonymous says:

    Regarding Lower Merion cameras on laptops in kids’ bedrooms – those in charge did us a big favor. Following in the footsteps of President Bush’s warrant less wiretaps, we’re all now a wee bit safer. Unfortunately the school administrators are probably in for a rough time and they shouldn’t be. Even if they were not aware of the ‘invasion of privacy or wiretap issues,’ they were certainly protecting the public by uncovering inappropriate behavior in the bedrooms and correcting it before the kids became truant or even worse thereby saving America from them in the future. In fact, the administrators should be held up as heroes. Instead of public condemnation and investigation by the FBI, they should be invited to the White House and awarded the Medal of Freedom for their patriotism. If even only one potential terrorist was uncovered in the bedrooms, that surely would go a long way to averting another 9/11. I hope PA does the right thing and enshrines them in the Philadelphia Freedom Hall Of Fame and maybe even Washington will make an exception this time and put their faces on a postage stamp while still alive. Hail to the school administrators! They’re number 1 on my list in our never-ending War on Terror.

  13. WeightedCompanionCube says:

    Wow, this has turned into some real spaghetti logic and far-fetched assumptions after #9.

    #11 – these machines have firmware passwords. You can’t boot from CD.

    #15 – wake on LAN doesn’t work over wireless OR the internet unless some very careful configuration is done to the machines and the wireless access points.

    and why such a focus on teenage… err.. hormonal activities? You know how difficult it would be to turn the camera on at just the right time for any pervy purposes?

    The issue isn’t the school monitoring the use of the laptops. They have the right to do that in any way they see fit: The laptops are school property.

    The issue is their failure to disclose this possibly included webcam images, if and when such images might be taken, and to what extent and for what purposes they would be retained and used.

    The school did nothing illegal under US laws, but a civil lawsuit isn’t a matter of legality. You can sure for any reason, to any end… it’s a matter of the plaintiff perceiving harm or the potential for harm. The potential for abuse here is huge, even if no abuse actually occurred.

  14. IamInnocent says:

    Wow! I thought that I’d seed not getting it before but you sir or mam are topping it off! The point is not of catching you kid doing wrong things. The point is exertion of surveillance by some authorities in your own home. Funny, I would have thought that that would be something that you’d like to do yourself.

  15. Anonymous says:

    The ACLU’s amicus brief may be viewed here:

  16. deckard68 says:

    Peeping Tom laws should be more than enough to get criminal charges against the voyeurs at the school.

  17. davide405 says:

    @ Anon #9

    Wow! In just a few sentences, you went from parental control software to:

    “I dont know why people think that kids should have all these freedoms.”

    Which freedoms are you talking about? I think the only ‘freedom’ at issue here is whether or not kids should have an expectation of privacy in their own homes (or bedrooms). Is that a ‘freedom’ you deny your four middle-school aged kids? Must be an interesting household…

    I’ve been following all of the comment threads for all of the articles relating to this issue, and I don’t recall anyone who has seriously suggested that minors should enjoy all of the civil liberties to which adults are entitled, yet be insulated from the punishment to which adults are subject. Yours is a classic straw man argument.

    So, let’s get back to the real point. Educators have a duty to supervise students ‘in loco parentis’ while those students are at school. That duty must end the moment the student returns to the control of his parents. To assert that the duty continues beyond that point for any reason is at once an unacceptable burden on the educators and an intolerable invasion of the family.

    Are you prepared to offer every small detail of your family’s home life up for public examination? Even if the computers were never used for any non-scholarly function, they were still listening/watching devices that could be activated surreptitiously at any time. Just because you aren’t ashamed of anything that goes on in your house doesn’t mean that someone else might not think you should be. They might, for example, see you giving drugs to your children… Will you be grateful for the opportunity to explain to them that it was only candy? Remember, since you’re an adult and subject to adult punishment, you’ll be making that explanation to the police…

    It’s not just the kids with the computers whose expectation of privacy has been violated, it’s their entire family.

    “… the issue of child porn is stupid.”

    Really? Just because you’ve never met a kid who does homework in any state of undress doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. And what about the kid who has just finished his/her homework and goes straight to bed without turning off the laptop? Do your kids sleep in their street clothes?

    Let’s consider the diligent kid who did his homework promptly upon his return from school, but forgot to close the lid on his laptop. Hours later, with the computer ostensibly asleep, the kid gets ready for bed. But even though he has never used the computer for any non-homework purpose, it is still a surveillance device. Can you say “Wake on LAN?” Do your kids never do anything in their beds that you (or they) would prefer not be available for viewing on the internet?

    If they do, perhaps you would prefer that they learned the repercussions of such activities.

    I don’t think the parents of the student at the center of this controversy are “…just another person tacking (sic) advantage of the court system looking for a handout.” I think they are persons of character who really do “…get what is wrong here.”

    The hell of it is, they are protecting your children as well, even though you don’t seem to understand that, and apparently consider them contemptible.

  18. jokel says:

    the school covertly photographed at home him using spyware

    The school was at home and photographed a student who was using spyware?

  19. Anonymous says:

    I really dont get what is wrong here. I have 4 kids and I expect that the computers they use at school would have tracking software to monitor what students are doing. I would also expect that if they were issued a notebook to take home that they would monitor what was done on it. If they gave my kid a computer and did not put these SAFEGUARDS in place, i would be furious. I dont know why people think that kids should have all these freedoms. The Civil liberties that adults expect, should not be the same as a minor. We dont expect minors to be punished like adults, but we want to give them the same rights and freedoms? what sense does that make.

    As for catching one of the students naked, I have middle school aged kids, they dont do homework undressed. I have never met a kid that did, so the issue of child porn is stupid. If the laptop is given to the child TO DO HOMEWORK with, this is not an issue. If the child decides to use the device for taking pictures or other activities for which it is not intended then they need to know the repercussions.

    From my understanding, the child was consuming what looked like a drug, but was actually candy, if the school found pictures of my kid, that looked like they were doing drugs, I would be grateful, EVEN if it was just candy. This is just another person tacking advantage of the court system looking for a hand out. They should thank the schools for being concerned, get over it and let the schools go back to teaching and the kids go back to learning.

    • ehoward says:

      Here is what is wrong, Anon #9

      Your clothed homeworked teenagers retire to bed…

      You and the hubbie take the laptop up to your room to check the homework (another advantage of take-home laptops).

      Tired from a long day of work, after looking at your childrens’ homework, you set the laptop aside and climb into bed.

      Having locked your door earlier, the two of you romp in bed with your favorite activity of making more children.

      Meanwhile, back in School-land, Tommie Techie, working late, just read his email and notices your daughter’s laptop has been reported stolen. Tommie activates the spycam which begins snapping stills of the two of you every 30 seconds.

      Seeing that he has something, Tommie downloads all the photos to his USB drive, wipes the server drive, and heads home. Where he contacts his friendly pay-per-view adult porn friends and sells the series.

      So a month or so goes by and suddenly you are fired for “conduct unbecoming” whatever you do. Your boss simply says he doesn’t want you. Everywhere you go for a new job, it seems your boss has called ahead and no one is interested in you.

      Someone (most likely a neighbor who likes porn) recognizes the two of you and reports you to Child Services as unfit parents. Both Welfare and the Police are now knocking at your door.

      This is not just about your kids (who do have rights whether you believe so or not). Do you get it yet?

      • Xopher says:

        Do you get it yet?

        I’m betting he won’t. IME authoritarians tend to think their rightness is intrinsic, not dependent on, you know, actually being right.

        • tizroc says:

          I can’t tell if they are being serious here or just trying to be sarcastic. I mean the thing about kids having no rights almost read like satire, but the rest comes across rather trollish and argumentative. I admit to being confused.

          As a parent I can say that young adults have hormones and identity (or body issues). It is hard for people that young to understand the ramifications (long term) for such issues. Being tired after an early day at school, homework, play and some friendship drama kids are bound to be self absorbed. In this state it would be very easy to catch a young adult, or budding adult in a compromising situation. Perhaps dressing or even body evaluation. Both normal very typical teen events. This doesn’t even take into account masturbatory norms of this age group.

          Even if not being monitored actively, the software saves the files locally for potential retrieval when necessary. If stolen (even if deleted) these files could be retrieved. I am unable to contemplate a word that is descriptive enough for the monumental stupidity of this maneuver(laptop spying). If the school had a rouge computer and it was necessary to view (which I cannot think of one reason) the file why wasn’t the parent’s notified and allowed to do their job? When has policing children at their home become the school’s job (unless of course it is a case of child abuse/endangerment)?

    • Anonymous says:

      @anon #9
      Yikes. Right now I’m very thankful I didn’t have parents like you. Maybe you should just install hidden cameras in your kids’ rooms and cut out the middleman of the school.

    • Anonymous says:

      I apologize for the untimeliness of this post.

      “I really dont get what is wrong here.”

      True. As you say, your comment reflects an egregious misunderstanding of the issue.

      “I expect that the computers they use at school would have tracking software to monitor what students are doing.”

      The issue is remotely activated web cams, not nanny software.

      “As for catching one of the students naked, I have middle school aged kids, they dont do homework undressed. I have never met a kid that did, so the issue of child porn is stupid.”

      The cameras were activated remotely at various times, not merely while the student was using the computer. It turns out, pictures of undressed students were taken. Now, maybe you are naive, or maybe I’m jaded, but I have trouble believing this was not intentional. Hence, child porn.

      “From my understanding, the child was consuming what looked like a drug, but was actually candy, if the school found pictures of my kid, that looked like they were doing drugs, I would be grateful, EVEN if it was just candy. This is just another person tacking advantage of the court system looking for a hand out. They should thank the schools for being concerned, get over it and let the schools go back to teaching and the kids go back to learning.”

      Even if you grant that spying on kids in their homes is reasonable, which I do not, the actions of the school are unconscionable. They did not investigate further, they did not notify the parents; they suspended the student. Perhaps makers of small candies should also sue for the school creating an environment detrimental to the use of their products. Kids like candy? Go figure.

      This is just another example of authoritarian douche bags running rough shod over their charges, and protecting their own even though they were clearly doing wrong.

      If you are looking for money grab, consider that all of the school’s actions including their legal defense, the insurance that bailed them out, and the salaries of the wrongdoers are all being paid for by the very people who are suing them. It will be an interesting next election.

      I’d hate being your kid. I gather you are cut from the same cloth.

    • robulus says:

      Hilarious! I almost missed the sarcasm!

  20. Anonymous says:

    “is weak, because technically wiretapping involves intercepting communications that have already begun, not creating a connection to take video. ”

    Hard to sift out facts at this stage but I seem to recall at least one claim that the candy eating event occurred while communicating to a friend over the web cam.

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