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God's will be done and may He have mercy upon us all.

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A Catholic who follows Rome & the Magisterium. I'm against gay "marriage", abortion, embryonic stem cell research, euthanasia, human cloning. Altar girls, Communion in the hand, Eucharistic Ministers and "Protestant" music in the Church doesn't bother me at all. A proud American retired submarine sailor. Our borders should be secured with a 10 ft. high fence topped by concertina wire with minefields out to 20 yards on both sides and an additional 10 yards filled with warning signs outside of that Let's get energy independent NOW! Back Israel to the max, stop appeasing followers of the Pedophile Prophet. Pro 2nd Amendment, pro death penalty, Repeal all hate crime legislation. Back the police unless you'd rather call a hippie when everything hits the fan. Get government out of dealing with education, childhood obesity and the enviornment. Stop using the military for sociological experiments and if we're in a war don't micromanage their every move. Kill your television, limit time on the computer and pick up a book. God's will be done and may He have mercy upon us all.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Webcam spies on student via school's laptop.

I came upon this at the NY Times news blog via Creative Minority Report, it's a bit creepy IMO.

School Accused of Using Webcam to Photograph Student at Home

In a lawsuit filed in federal court, a school district in suburban Philadelphia has been accused of using a Webcam embedded in a school-issued laptop to covertly photograph a 15-year-old student in his home.

According to the boy’s parents, Michael and Holly Robbins — who filed the class-action suit against Lower Merion School District on behalf of their son, Blake, and other students whose privacy might have been violated in a similar fashion — the family discovered that the laptop could be used for remote spying three months ago. The suit states that on Nov. 11, Lindy Matsko, an assistant principal at Harriton High School, informed Blake that he “was engaged in improper behavior in his home, and cited as evidence a photograph from the Webcam embedded in [his] personal laptop issued by the School District.” (The complete text of the suit was posted online by The Philadelphia Inquirer.)

The suit adds that Ms. Matsko subsequently confirmed to the boy’s father that the district “in fact has the ability to remotely activate the Webcam … at any time it chose and to view and capture whatever images were in front of the Webcam.”

In a letter to parents posted on the school district’s Web site late Thursday night, Christopher W. McGinley, Lower Merion’s schools superintendent, admitted that a security feature allowed the Webcams to be activated without the knowledge of the laptops’ users, but he claimed that it was used only to track lost or stolen computers and had been disabled on Thursday. Mr. McGinley wrote:

District laptops do contain a security feature intended to track lost, stolen and missing laptops. The security feature, which was disabled today, was installed to help locate a laptop in the event it was reported lost, missing or stolen so that the laptop could be returned to the student.

Upon a report of a suspected lost, stolen or missing laptop, the feature would be activated by the District’s security and technology departments. The security feature’s capabilities were limited to taking a still image of the operator and the operator’s screen. This feature was only used for the narrow purpose of locating a lost, stolen or missing laptop. The District never activated the security feature for any other purpose or in any other manner whatsoever.

The suit does not say what the “improper behavior” was that the boy was accused of engaging in by the assistant principal, but a footnote to the claim that his privacy was unlawfully violated says: “Should discovery disclose that Defendants are in possession of images constituting child pornography” as defined by Pennsylvania law, the family reserves the right to add that to its list of complaints.

Dan Hardy and Bonnie Cook of The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that the boy’s mother said on Thursday that she could not comment on specifics of the case on the advice of the family’s lawyers. They also reported:

Blake Robbins, answering the door at his home, said he, too, could not comment. With a mop of brown hair and clad in a black T-shirt and jeans, he smiled when told the suit had earned him a Wikipedia page and other Internet notoriety.

According to The Inquirer, “the Lower Merion district issued laptops to all 2,300 high school students, starting last school year at Harriton and later at Lower Merion High.” Now, Lower Merion students want to know if those devices were used to monitor their behavior.

While high school rumor mills are famously productive, the tech blog Gizmodo reported on Thursday that another student in the district claimed that some students had noticed the camera lights on their school-issued Apple laptops apparently turning on at random before the lawsuit was filed. According to the unnamed student:

Frequently, the green lights next to our iSight webcams will turn on. The school district claims that this is just a glitch. We are all doubting this now.

On Twitter one user who claimed to be a student in the district apparently decided to appeal for help to two of the highest authorities on the social network, writing late last night:

@BarackObama as our leader, how do you feel about the Blake Robbins vs Lower Merion suit? yes, we go to LM, and things are intense !!!

@nickjonas …. hey buddy so did you hear about the case in LOWER MERION vs Blake robbins…. intense stuff eh?

Hmm. In "1984" Winston Smith had a video cam setup in his living room mirror. That was before PCs became the rage. If Orwell wrote that novel now I'm sure he'd substitute a laptop or cell phone for the mirror.

I had a former employer who was ready to substitute my company provided cell phone with one having GPS capability, this was ostensibly for my own benefit as they'd had a few workers die of heart attacks while out on the road. It was also used for one hell of a lot of double checking on where everyone was having lunch or actually located while supposedly working on company time (full disclosure here, I knew I'd be canned in the near future and most days were spent studying a correspondence course ordered at the company's expense. They had a reason to keep tabs on me!). Turned out one of my subordinates (a man not overly bright) was pissed I'd be getting the latest & greatest in technology so his own phone conveniently fell into a pool of water. He got the GPS-equipped special, hope he liked it.

I'd also run into various other mobile workers for various companies who bitched about their GPS-equipped phones. It seemed those phones cut into visits to the local "gentleman's club" and sports bar.

Big Brother has been out there for some time, now it appears he's in the schools.

Hell will freeze before my kids bring anything like this laptop home if it's provided by the school. I'll buy one for them out in town and if necessary have it groomed by someone I trust for detecting spying capabilities.


Unknown said...

I posted the same story today. I here ya, brother.

Always On Watch said...

The suit does not say what the “improper behavior” was...

I have to wonder what the behavior was, though.

That said, I do have a real problem with schools trying to know what goes on in a student's private life. And, frankly, I also have a problem with schools themselves distributing laptops to students.

Your comparison with Orwell is spot on.

Most Rev. Gregori said...

I am not surprised by this in the least. The Public School system seems to think that they own our children and grandchildren. This is just one more area that we should get our government out of, since they have no Constitutional authority to be involved in our schools any way.

Always On Watch, yo said: "The suit does not say what the “improper behavior” was...

I have to wonder what the behavior was, though."

That, I am afraid is none of our business. It is between the boy and his parents.

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