LoJack makers sued over privacy invasion after tracking stolen laptop

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64 Responses to “LoJack makers sued over privacy invasion after tracking stolen laptop”

  1. Alvis says:

    Ars Technica?  Wha?

  2. clpolk says:

    “A judge ruled that (Absolute Software’s) tracking of her, including emails and recorded sex acts, may violate wiretapping laws.”

    um…

    I *see.*

  3. EH says:

    Hah, the first story I read about this left me confused because it was about something like “teacher lady busted with sex pics stolen laptop yadda yadda.” LoJack just may well be screwed here…whoops!

  4. Ken Westin says:

    I am the Founder & CEO of GadgetTrak, we also provide theft recovery software for laptops, however take a very different approach. We have always taken issue with the “back door” approach where staff are granted access to customer’s systems, we also do not take screenshots. We do gather location data and capture photos of who is using the device along with network data, however this information is sent directly to the owner of the device, the software can even be configured to use their own mail servers.  The information we gather is enough for law enforcement to follow up on the recovery and our high recovery rate speaks to this. No system should grant employees with back doors into their customers’ systems, the weakest link in the security chain is always human.

    • Raven says:

      Unfortunately, the weakest link is quite often an employee. No matter what the security precautions.

      Hindsight is always 20/20 but I suspect that the employee simply assumed that the pictures he was looking at, belonged to the thief.

    • moonmoth says:

      Ken, I’m pretty sure that if I produced the IP address and rough geographical location of my stolen laptop and took them to the UK police I would get stonewalled. I very much doubt they would have any clue how to start tracking my laptop down unless I was able to back it up with photographic evidence.

      • magicdragonfly says:

        What photographic evidence? Explicit photos of a woman are evidence that she stole a laptop? How would those *not* be seen as just run-of-the-mill internet porn, unless the tracking service had law enforcement credibility to start with?

      • CountZero says:

        I believe there was a recent example of a MacBook being stolen then recovered by the police after the owner showed police pictures of the perp taken buy the webcam. The perp’s dad admitted the crime.

  5. redesigned says:

    Thanks BoingBoing…suddenly every hot school teacher around the globe is getting multiple offers for really good deals on used laptops. ;-P

  6. zombiebob says:

    Super happy that USA has a brand new batch of entrepreneurial types and bargain hunters cropping up! 

  7. Stonewalker says:

    $60 for a stolen laptop?  Damn I’m glad I went to college, crime truly doesn’t pay.

  8. Michael H says:

    “The case rests largely on whether Clements-Jeffrey knew the laptop she bought was stolen and whether she and her boyfriend then had a reasonable expectation of privacy.”

    Well I’m confident that the first part can be proven, simply by the price paid. There is no way a person of sound mind would think that there’s nothing suspect about being sold a laptop of $60, specially when the serial number was not present due to obvious tampering.

    On the right to privacy question, I think it’s a moot point despite the wiretapping proposition being put forward. You bought something that was stolen, and the owner or their authorised agents are able to everything reasonable to aide in recovery. If you happened to send sexually explicit material that was intercepted in the process of gaining information to assist in recovery, tough.

    • erissian says:

      She bought a “broken” laptop, which she then paid to have repaired. This is not an unreasonable price. People give away broken or old laptops for free on a regular basis.

      Also of note is that she is suing the police. They made it a point to talk about the explicit pictures and tell her how disgusting they found them. Their lawyer also tried to make the case that there is no expectation of privacy on the Internet, period.

    • stuck411 says:

      I don’t deny that the low price tag should make anyone suspicious, but I’d argue it depends on how well the buyer thinks they know the seller/thief.  What was the story he used to sell it that cheap and was it plausible? It was after all one of her students.  As to the scraped off serial number, how many devices do people have that they have ever even looked for the serial number?  No. I’m not making excuses. Just saying that for the right person you’re likely to suspend disbelief and not do any follow up.

  9. This is apparently a field day for the GadgetTrak CEO, because I keep bumping into his copy-and-pasted message of love and joy here, at Wired, Ars, etc. Not that I blame him, but fer chissakes try a little originality, man!

  10. Antinous / Moderator says:

    Stay on topic, please.

    • princessalex says:

      With all due respect, what comment has been off-topic, so far?  The article is about a theft-deterrent system in place on a stolen laptop.  A couple of commenters have pointed out and asked questions about how that may work in real-life.  I appreciate moderating, but I just don’t see anything here that warrants an “on-topic” reminder.

      • Raven says:

        With all due respect, what comment has been off-topic, so far?

        There were, prior to you reading this, quite a few entries on the McDonalds hot coffee in the lap lawsuit.

        The entries were removed by the Mod.

  11. foobar says:

    If it’s not ok to shame someone who receives a stolen laptop, then what motivation does a thief have not to simply claim that they bought it from someone in a bar.

    If you take pictures, naughty or otherwise, with someone else’s laptop I don’t see what expectation of privacy you have.

    • Raven says:

      Will the jury buy the argument, that that the price should have indicated that the laptop had fallen off the back of a lorry?

      Or, will the jury punish the teacher for apparently taking advantage of a seemingly  unaware student?

      Answers are easy. Asking the right question(s) can be hard.

      I guess we will have to wait to see what the jury will decide.

      • Will the jury buy the argument, that that the price should have indicated that the laptop had fallen off the back of a lorry? 

        I gave my mother a free laptop. Should she assume that I stole it?

        • Raven says:

          I gave my mother a free laptop. Should she assume that I stole it?

          Mine never has, to the best of my knowledge. And, as a matter of fact, I can not recall, ever checking for a serial number myself.

          The question remains. Would the jury buy it?

  12. danegeld says:

    Interesting – probably the sex chat and the screenshots should be inadmissible as evidence in a trial, if they were obtained without a warrant. e.g. there is a due process that could have gotten a warrant, but it was bypassed. I think the lady who had the stolen laptop was shamed quite effectively, regardless of whether she can also be prosecuted for taking stolen goods.

    • Raven says:

      My guess is that it is the shaming that precipitated the lawsuit. If the employee had held out for more “conventional” images, there may have been no lawsuit.

  13. TG13 says:

    it seems the practical fact is, there is no reasonable expectation of privacy..

  14. That_Anonymous_Coward says:

    There is no technology we can not use for porn.

  15. chaopoiesis says:

    @That_Anonymous_Coward   OK, I’ll bite… lasers?

    • Lasers? You mean the technological basis for all optical discs (CDs, DVDs, Blu Ray), and also the backbone of telecoms (optical fibre) yeah can’t see how they’d be used for porn. :p

    • That_Anonymous_Coward says:

      Lubricant warming in seconds.
      Laser cut restraints.
      Custom laser etched metal restraints.
      “Laser guided missile” – you puzzle that one out.
      High tech branding
      I can go on and on….

       @twitter-14737749:disqus  – those were to easy ;)

    • querent says:

      You ever watch Archer?

      “Also, sorry that I’m *accidentally* in side of you right now.”

      “Not a problem.”

  16. patelanjali says:

    The information we gather is enough for law enforcement to follow up on the recovery and our high recovery rate speaks to this.

  17. blueelm says:

    One of my coworkers lent me an old laptop that is still sitting some where in my house. Why would I assume it is stolen? That’s just being silly. People like to get off on shaming and hurting people, and luckily people who have anything they have done wrong in the past are plentiful. I hope the teacher wins this suit. Screw vigilante justice. And yes, I’m a crime victim too. I’d rather be the victim of individual petty criminals than societies whipping boy any day…

    • JackElliot says:

      The serial number was scraped off. Use your head, man.

      • blueelm says:

        She’s a school teacher, nit an asset manager. Given the number of calls help desks and customer support get from people who have to be reminded what a serial number is and where it is… I don’t fond it hard to imagine she might not ever have noticed. And what about that justifies anything anyway?

  18. awjt says:

    Stolen laptop or stolen lap dance?

  19. paulgoggin says:

    If you purchase a used laptop and don’t replace the HD – you should have no reasonable expectation of anything. It could be lojacked. It could be full of trojans to steal your financial information. Bottom line… you really don’t know. The pursuit of the laptop by the original owner should not be an issue. The police making fun and victimizing her over her pictures is inappropriate behavior. One would hope law enforcement would be above such childish antics, but since general society isn’t, it isn’t surprising law enforcement does not take the high ground either.

  20. magicdragonfly says:

    A few times now, BB has posted stories of people tracking down their own iPhones, laptops, etc. by way of intercepting pictures taken by the device’s camera, etc. and then going to law enforcement with them. The usual response is congratulatory.
    How is this different?

  21. I don’t think this would be as big a deal if Absolute had intercepted PG-rated material as proof of who had possession of the laptop.  But they intercepted nude photos (with the legs spread).  They looked at the nude photos, sent the nude photos to police.  More than likely, those photos were seen by a dozen people who really didn’t need to see them.  They were printed out, and presented to the woman by the investigating officer.

    Did it ever occur to anyone involved in this investigation that it might be better to choose a different photo?  Are we supposed to believe that a photo of the woman’s vulva was the BEST evidence on her hard drive?  Didn’t she have other photos?

    Does the Absolute employee have the ability to crop the photo to show less vulva and more face?  Why wouldn’t he do that, so as to spare unnecessary vulva-viewing by countless people?

    Imagine how un-newsworthy this would be if the guy had found a photo showing only the face, or if he had cropped the x-rated photo to PG.

    • Ambiguity says:

      Did it ever occur to anyone involved in this investigation that it might be better to choose a different photo?  Are we supposed to believe that a photo of the woman’s vulva was the BEST evidence on her hard drive?  Didn’t she have other photos?

      Absolutely the best evidence! Vulvas are like fingerprints — every one is unique!

  22. msbpodcast says:

    You KNOW that the coverage of her is doing far more damage than the actual recovery of a stolen laptop.

    I feel no sympathy for her. She should never have bought a stolen computer.If she had been smart she would have KNOWN that everything that is connected to the internet can be traced back to its actual location (unless you’ve got some REAL hacking skills, [following things things through anonymizers and bouncing around continents is child's play to the authorities nowadays.])

    WIth IPv6 tagging of the actual components, its impossible for a laptop AND its connected hard drives and other peripherals to hide their complete “provenance”. (This unit was manufactured by x on dd/mm/yyyy, bought on dd/mm/yyyy by y, resold on dd/mm/yyyy to z, serviced on dd/mm/yyyy, hard drive/cpu/memory unit xx:xx:xx:xx:xx:xx:xx:xx replaced for unit yy:yy:yy:yy:yy:yy:yy:yy, reported stolen on dd/mm/yyyy to precinct P.)

    External identification marks mean nothing. The components themselves are all tagged.

    • Raven says:

      I feel no sympathy for her. She should never have bought a stolen computer.

      We should not assume that she knowingly did so. For example, I live in a high trust environment. For the last two years, I have not bothered to lock my car either in my neighbourhood or in town. Most of my neighbours have unprotected wireless routers, despite my best efforts to persuade them otherwise.  In fact, they do not lock up their homes either, even if they are going to be away for a week or more.

      If she had been smart she would have KNOWN that everything that is connected to the internet can be traced back to its actual location (unless you’ve got some REAL hacking skills, [following things things through anonymizers and bouncing around continents is child's play to the authorities nowadays.])

      I doubt that it true for all the authorities. I suspect the subset that do is rather small in fact. In any event, I believe you underestimate the technical knowledge about the Internet, that is held by the public at large. 

      On the gripping hand, the local computer shop reports quite a few instances of people being called by a concerned Microsoft employee, who informs them that they have a virus, and that they should download a fix from a URL that they provide.

      You and I might agree, that the very notion that Microsoft has an army of people, dedicated to calling individuals about being infected, is ludicrous. You might also point to the above as evidence that people should know better.

      Now, having generously erected a straw man in your name, I will leave you to demolish it, rather than do so myself.

  23. oledrevolution says:

    Federal law has a safe harbor provision that allows an owner of a
    computer to monitor a trespassers communications(individual using the
    stolen computer). (See 18 U.S.C. section2511(2)(i).)

    The statute does not appear to indicate whether it ceases to apply if a 3rd parties are not aware of the hardware’s status as stolen property.  Thus it appears that whether or not this judge in particular feels that a jury could find that Absolute Software crossed some line of privacy, the law supersedes what the Jury may think.  However, unless the term “reasonable grounds” is given the broad interpretation that is provided for the safe-harbor given to retail establishments when they hold suspected shoplifters (what would otherwise be false imprisonment)sub-section (III) of 18 USC 2511(2)(i) might be what the jury depends on to find for the plaintiffs.

    It shall not be unlawful under this chapter for a
    person acting under color of law to intercept the wire or electronic
    communications of a computer trespasser transmitted to, through, or from
    the protected computer, if—

    (I) the owner or operator of the protected computer
    authorizes the interception of the computer trespasser’s communications
    on the protected computer;
    (II) the person acting under color of law is lawfully engaged in an investigation;
    (III) the person acting under color of law has reasonable grounds to believe that the contents of the computer trespasser’s communications will be relevant to the investigation; and
    (IV) such interception does not acquire communications other than those transmitted to or from the computer trespasser.

  24. Red Garner says:

    Am I the only one who thinks it’s odd that a teacher would buy something besides fundraising candy from a student? Call me old fashioned, but…

    However, that does NOT excuse the behavior of the company in question in regards to the pictures. What happened to “innocent till proven guilty”?

    • Raven says:

      Am I the only one who thinks it’s odd that a teacher would buy something besides fundraising candy from a student? Call me old fashioned, but…

      I assure you that in these modern times, teachers in general, and even female teachers have been known to do much more than buy laptops of dubious provenance from their students.
      http://teachersbehavingbadly.blogspot.com/

      I myself, am agape and agog at the sheer number of female teachers being arrested for having sex with their students. There appears to be an epidemic of female teachers raping their male, and sometimes female students.
      http://www.zimbio.com/The+50+Most+Infamous+Female+Teacher+Sex+Scandals

      • C W says:

        “I myself, am agape and agog at the sheer number of female teachers being arrested for having sex with their students. There appears to be an epidemic of female teachers raping their male, and sometimes female students.”

        Agape and agog all you will, but the only difference here is that it’s being reported. There’s no more “epidemic” than there ever was.

  25. SarahKH says:

    So someone buys a laptop for $60 (about £50ish) which should set alarm bells ringing that it’s hotter than hell.

    Then when the recovery software does it’s thing the person in reciept of stolen goods sues the tracking firm?  Erm… ok.   How’s about you go to jail for recieving stolen goods and your smart ass legal people can worth that one out instead.

  26. SuperGauntlet says:

    Waaaaait… WTF? I’m so confused. This is about privacy. The lady is 50-something. She’s not knowledgable about computers. She probably thought that since it was an old-ish computer that 60 bucks was reasonable, or her student convinced her. Why in the FUCK are we blaming the victim?

    • wizardru says:

      Her age is neither here nor there.  In fact, the very fact that she was using the webcam for a real-time sex-chat over the internet suggests that you are wrong about her knowledge of computers.  My 60 year-old mother-in-law is fairly ignorant of computers…but my father, at 73, was downloading DVD-ripping programs and burning his own and using the web for genealogy searches on various forums and websites.  People did work at places like IBM and Xerox PARC before 1990, you know.

      • wizardru says:

        And just to be clear, I’m not commenting about the privacy issue at all.  I’m just pointing out that her age should have no bearing on this case; if she were 85, I might be on board with you, maybe.  But there are a lot of older people who use computers constantly.  My wife’s 84 year-old aunt is on Facebook daily, while her 38 year-old sister can’t figure out the house wifi I set up for her or how her DVR works.  Age alone is not a reason to assume technical ignorance.

        • earwicker says:

          Older people may use computers constantly but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are so knowledgeable about pricing that we can assume she KNEW it was stolen due to the low price. 

          • wizardru says:

            No, we can’t.  That was exactly my point.  We can’t assume she knew either way simply based on her age.  The argument ‘well, she was in her 50s, which is OLD, and therefore she couldn’t possibly understand a computer or it’s cost and market value’ is ridiculous on it’s face.  It’s entirely possible she didn’t…but that isn’t a fait accompli based solely on her age.

          • CountZero says:

            It certainly is ridiculous. I’m sitting here writing this on my iPhone, I have a recently purchased MacMini next door with twin HDD’s in, an eight year old PowerBook, three mountain bikes, and an unhealthy (for my finances) love of all things techy. I’m 57. The fact I’m wearing camo combat shorts and an Arcade Fire tee from a recent concert should also go to prove that being in your 50′s doesn’t mean you automatically become senile and ignorant of what is going on around you.

    • Antinous / Moderator says:

      The lady is 50-something. She’s not knowledgable about computers. She probably thought that since it was an old-ish computer that 60 bucks was reasonable, or her student convinced her.

      Dude,

      This moderator of Boing Boing is in his mid-fifties. Your assumptions are quaint.

  27. DewiMorgan says:

    Honestly, $60 (=£38ish, not £50) is a pretty normal price for a broken, older laptop.

    And the serial number being scraped off: have any of you tried to read the various serial numbers and bar codes on the bottom of a laptop? Typically they’re on stickers. Which means that the sticker was either torn off (very normal) or the ink rubbed off (again, very normal).

    The kid’s the perp here, not the teacher.

  28. jowlsey says:

    Wiping the disk and installing an O/S from scratch isn’t *that* hard…  Ubuntu will install in less than an hour and it’s free…

  29. Clifton says:

    Well, the “50 year olds couldn’t possibly know computers!” argument line is highly amusing.

    Young dudes and dudettes, were you to survey the industry, I think you’d find there are quite a bunch of 50-somethings (and older) who wrote the OS software you’re running, manage the routers your web traffic is running through, started the ISPs your web hosts are getting transit from, designed and coded the application protocols your software is using, designed the chips in your computer, wrote the credit card transaction systems you used to buy that computer, and so on. Some while back, a bunch of people – who I think are all over 50 now – even invented a crazy networking idea called the Internet.

    Yours, yet another 50-something 35 year veteran of the computer industry.

  30. hbl says:

    Not to weigh into the whole agism debate, but we’re talking about some kids who managed to “scrape” off the serial number but couldn’t figure out how to do a fresh install? What did they think it was, a car? That electronics don’t have digital serial numbers hard wired into their very logic-boards? Who are these semi-literate kids? A product of the education system this teacher serves? We are doomed. 

  31. Raven says:

    I think you may want to hit the refresh button. You may find that you are responding to entries that have been disappeared. Anyway I believe you remember correctly:

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