Nothing Is Ever Free

The Lower Merion School District in Pennsylvania provides lap top computers to every one of their 1,800 high school students. School officials say that this ensures that all students have '24/7 access to school based resorces'. It seems the actual reason is to allow school officials after school access to the students' home lives. Each one of the student lap tops contains an embedded web cam that can be remotely activated by the school personnel. Let me be clear, anything happening in any room the school provided lap top is in can be watched by school officials whenever they choose to activate the web cam. This is not just checking what the computer was accessing on the web, this is watching what goes on in the family homes of these children. This came to light when student, Blake T. Robbins, was pulled into assistant principal, Lindy Matsko office to be reprimanded for 'improper behavior at home'. To verify the accusation Ms. Matsko produced a picture taken by the web cam in the boy's home. A lawsuit has been filed by Blake's parents on his behalf, in federal court. Not all lawsuits are frivolous, not all educators are intelligent, and not all big brother scenarios involve the government in the role of bad guy.
     Posted By: Alex - Thu Feb 18, 2010

By far not the least thing wrong with this is that if school officials can turn on the cameras remotely, potentially anyone can. So they had effectively set up 900 under-age 'jennycam's in their form's bedrooms (plus 900 male equivalents).

If a 6 year-old kid can be charged with sex-offences for snapping a girl's panty-elastic, the whole damn staff of this school should be on the register for peeping in on kids bedroom habits.
Posted by Dumbfounded on 02/18/10 at 06:45 PM
honestly, this just completely freakin' blows my mind. i sincerly hope heads roll for this awful infringment on these people's privacy. i wouldn't let my kid accept a school provided computer after hearing this story. i don't care if that sounds paranoid or not this was a truely terrible thing the school did to these kids and families.
Posted by Patty in Ohio, USA on 02/18/10 at 06:47 PM
Half-inch square of duck-tape over the camera lens will put your mind at ease, patty. And if someone at school complains or asks to see the notebook, ask them how they knew?

Actually, with a bit of hacking someone could probably substitute a video playback for the live camera feed. Imagine video-editing up a film of your kid displaying Heroes-style superpowers, or being abducted by aliens, or being and alien (shades of V) and piping that back to the next person to try to turn on the camera?
Posted by Dumbfounded on 02/18/10 at 07:00 PM
i thought of the sex offender thing too dumbfounded, and that's exactly what they deserve for the crap they have pulled. duct tape won't keep them from listening in if they have that ability too. this is the kind of thing that totally freaks me out.
Posted by Patty in Ohio, USA on 02/18/10 at 09:14 PM
Most likely this is easily solved by either removing the camera software or simply changing the settings in Windows.

There needs to be some <<<SERIOUS>>> jail time involved here.
Posted by Expat47 in Athens, Greece on 02/18/10 at 10:51 PM
Ya gotta go over and read the comments on this article. Some of them sound like the authors think this action is just fine! One even went so far to say that the schools' in loco parentis extends to every aspect of the kids life!

Posted by Expat47 in Athens, Greece on 02/19/10 at 01:30 AM
absolutely expat! they are a bunch of fashists and the commenters over there are like minded idiots as well.
Posted by Patty in Ohio, USA on 02/19/10 at 07:14 AM
I'm speechless. How anyone can possibly think this is(was) a good idea... it boggles the mind. I feel that everyone involved should lose their jobs, and any compensation paid to the families should come from their own money, not from us, the tax payers.
Posted by Nethie on 02/19/10 at 09:49 AM
The school board have have confirmed that they could remotely enable the webcams, but have claimed that the feature was "intended to track stolen laptops" and has now been deactivated (BBC News).

Superintendent McGinley's statements to how the monitoring function was used are directly contradicted by Assisstant Principle Matzko's. So who's lying, the principle or the superintendent?
Posted by Dumbfounded on 02/19/10 at 11:22 AM
ex0 has a point; I don't even use computers I buy without wiping and reinstalling them first.
Posted by Dumbfounded on 02/19/10 at 11:24 AM
Mind you that raises a bigger issue. Out of the whole school there should have been a few students with the skill to circumvent or subvert the remote-cam software, so hasn't the school just handed those kids a fantastic new toy/weapon to use on their classmates?
Posted by Dumbfounded on 02/19/10 at 11:28 AM
I usually make them dual-boot. I rarely use Windows, but I've got some software like 3DStudio and Macromedia that doesn't run on anything else, so I pay my Microsoft tax like a good little borgling.
Posted by Dumbfounded on 02/19/10 at 11:34 AM
Er, the lawsuit has already been filed, and allege illegal "wiretapping" was conducted, not an illegal search.

"Unbeknownst to Plaintiffs and members of the Class, and without their authorization, Defendants have been spying on Plaintiffs and Class members by Defendants' indiscriminate use of an ability to remotely activate the webcams incorporated into each laptop issued to students by the School District" Robbins v. Lower Merion School District, 2010.

So your prediction was a bit off the mark, I'm afraid.
Posted by Dumbfounded on 02/19/10 at 12:43 PM
My work recently upgraded my computer to IE8 (after lastyear "upgrading" me to IE6 from Firefox), and apart from blowing away my history and losing most of my bookmarks, they also locked down everything tight so that us nasty users can't do naughty things like (ironically) deleting our browsing history or blocking pop-ups (no, I don't know why either).

Took me five minutes to undo. 😊
Posted by Dumbfounded on 02/19/10 at 12:49 PM
ex0, just saw your earlier question, sorry.

Yes, currently I use Ubuntu, mostly because my youngest also uses the computer so the simplicity/stability is a plus point. Previously I've used SUSE, Red-hat (before it became Fedora), Debian, Slackware, Mandrake and even TurboLinux for a while.

Tried BSD briefly, didn't like it. (🤷)
Posted by Dumbfounded on 02/19/10 at 12:57 PM
(K)ubuntu seems to royally screw up my wife's laptop on a regular basis, I think mostly because it's making a "best guess" at what drivers to use for the integral video/sound/wifi. I might give KU9.10 a go as a last chance, before trying Slack or maybe even Knoppix-on-the-HD, mind you it's been a few years since I last looked at FreeBSD (5.0 I think), perhaps I might give that another go since it's not my box? 😊

(But we're going way off-topic a bit here.)
Posted by Dumbfounded on 02/19/10 at 01:35 PM
This should come of good news to some posters, esp expat - Just in from AP, 'A law-enforcement official with knowledge of the case says the FBI has opened a criminal investigation into a Pennsylvania school district accused of activating webcams inside students'homes without their knowledge.'
Posted by done on 02/19/10 at 05:10 PM
Thank you, Nethie, that was more up-to-date than what i saw, and i don't know how to post links. Dan in KC - umm, it's local stuff, dude, not a federal action. The Feds are investigating, and i think that's the point. But i like your 'government for little people' allusion. School always felt that way for me, esp after reading Animal Farm and 1984 in junior high. 'Illegitimi non carborundum'.
Posted by done on 02/19/10 at 10:54 PM
they're lying their asses off trying to cover up the abuse now that they got caught. that is my opinion. my prediction is that heads will roll over this crap. atleast i hope so!
Posted by Patty in Ohio, USA on 02/19/10 at 11:44 PM
absolutely, patti, i feel those 42 hits, or whatever, are going to turn out to be a lot more. So who was supervising those two 'authorized' employees on a minute by minute basis? And some of their superiors certainly would have had security permissions to do exactly what is alleged. Whoa to them if they were using an online storage system. It will all be there.
Posted by done on 02/19/10 at 11:57 PM
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