Monday, February 22, 2010

What Do You Think About This?

FBI Investigating Pa. School Webcam Spying Allegations

PHILADELPHIA — A suburban Philadelphia school district accused of secretly switching on laptop computer webcams inside students' homes says it never used webcam images to monitor or discipline students and believes one of its administrators has been "unfairly portrayed and unjustly attacked."

The Lower Merion School District, in response to a suit filed by a student, has acknowledged that webcams were remotely activated 42 times in the past 14 months, but only to find missing, lost or stolen laptops — which the district noted would include "a loaner computer that, against regulations, might be taken off campus."

"Despite some reports to the contrary, be assured that the security-tracking software has been completely disabled," Superintendent Christopher W. McGinley said in a statement on the district's Web site late Friday. Officials vowed a comprehensive review that McGinley said should result in stronger privacy policies.

Harriton High School student Blake Robbins and his parents, Michael and Holly Robbins, filed a federal civil rights lawsuit Tuesday against the district, its board of directors and McGinley. They accused the school of turning on the webcam in his computer while it was inside their Penn Valley home, which they allege violated wiretap laws and his right to privacy.

The suit, which seeks class-action status, alleges that Harriton vice principal Lindy Matsko on Nov. 11 cited a laptop photo in telling Blake that the school thought he was engaging in improper behavior. He and his family have told reporters that an official mistook a piece of candy for a pill and thought he was selling drugs

I read another article about this and what supposedly happened is the assistant principle called the child into her office and showed him a picture she snapped from the webcam and accused him of "inappropriate" behavior at home. There does not appear to be any denial that this incident happened. The point of contention is over whether it was okay to do considering the concerns of the assistant principle.

This is the real kicker though:

"We believe that the administrator at Harriton has been unfairly portrayed and unjustly attacked in connection with her attempts to be supportive of a student and his family," the statement on the Lower Merion School District site said. "The district never did and never would use such tactics as a basis for disciplinary action."

So what do you think? Is this okay?

Is a lawsuit justified? Is this a "federal case" in that the FBI should be investigating? What should happen to the assistant principle?

I saw a quote from another article in which one parent expressed concern that their daughter had one of these in her bedroom? Does that make it even more of a concern?

What are your thoughts on the notion that it is okay because the assistant principle was just trying to help the family? Is there a situation in which activating the camera in a child's house would be justified?


Anonymous said...

It should be somewhat worrisome to even the dumbest of our citizens that school districts are governments, and that it is NEVER okay for BIG BROTHER to spy on us in our homes, even if they “never do anything” with that information. Of course, we are talking about a society that has transformed itself from adoring our constitution and Bill of Rights, to becoming completely indifferent about such things as the Fourth Amendment, opting instead to embrace George Orwell’s 1984. The argument is ludicrous, actually. If the government (school) never intended to do anything with the information, then WHY did it implement spying on students? This is like saying that China is engaged in its largest naval construction program in 5,000 years but doesn’t intend to use its gargantuan navy against anyone.

Seriously, are we THAT STUPID?

I’m only asking because … if we are THAT STUPID, then we don’t deserve our Bill of Rights or a constitution that LIMITS GOVERNMENT.

Mustang out

Brooke said...

If I had a teenage daughter I would personally beat the hell out of that school principal.

Ultimately, I'm with Mustang.

Z said...

This is an outrage....
where's the ACLU on THIS ONE?

Z said...

Update: five minutes after commenting about the ACLU, I heard they've just become involved.
SEE how much clout I HAVE? :-)

LomaAlta said...

Absolutely no possible justification, not then, not now, not ever.

This is a toxic combination of pedophilia, 1984 Big Brother, invasion of privacy, electronic home invasion, peeping toms, and horribly irresponsible big government running wild and out of control.

This should result in prosecution of all involved and firing and lawsuits against those involved and those with knowledge of the spying.

LUCKY said...

I brought this up in my American Heritage class today at college. My students for the most part found this to be a intrusion of privacy. When I asked them how they would feel if they knew their laptops could be used to remote view them. The outrage was very real. I then asked what they would do if someone was viewing their children via web cam. Several of the students (since this is college) are parents and responded as did Brooke that they would have some choice things to say and do to that administrator.

Mustang's allusions to 1984 which I recently watched last week are chilling.

Personally I am tired of our public education system and the politics that go with it. I am tired of the teacher's union, and the PTA. I am becoming more in favor of privatizing education or simply home schooling my children (when I have them) to prevent this from happening. The only one I want violating my children's privacy is myself or my wife. That's what we get to do as parents.

It's an age old tradition.

Chuck said...

Mustang, agreed - on all points. It is essentially a "we know what's good for you" situation, very common in public schools

Brooke, I agree. How do we know no one has spied on teenage girls with this?

Z, good job

LomaAlta, my impression is that the asst principle has not even been disciplined - because they don't think this is wrong


The only one I want violating my children's privacy is myself or my wife

Funny. We all do it.

Interesting point on privatizing education.

What we really need to do is have more parental involvement. I live in a fairly conservative area and we have a pretty good and balanced school system (trust me, I am watching them).

It is no small coincidence either that these conservative parents are very involved in the schools. I think what makes the difference is fear. If we had this here the parents would be on their asses like nobody's business.

MK said...

"Is there a situation in which activating the camera in a child's house would be justified?"

'Pedophile' springs to mind, especially given the growing number of teachers trying to have sex with children.

Chuck said...

MK, one can't help but think about it

cube said...

This is some scary stuff. If the school had announced beforehand that it was able to spy on students then it wouldn't be so bad, but the fact that they did it without their consent is very creepy.

Chuck said...

Had one reader e-mail saying that since it was a school computer the family had no reasonable expectation to privacy. Thought that was an odd take on it