Thursday, April 22, 2010

School Took 56,000 Secret Photos From Students Laptops

Have you been following this stuff about the Pennsylvania school district that gave students laptops and then activated the cameras on them so they could see what the kids were doing at home?
Lower Merion School District employees activated the web cameras and tracking software on laptops they gave to high school students about 80 times in the past two school years, snapping nearly 56,000 images that included photos of students, pictures inside their homes and copies of the programs or files running on their screens, district investigators have concluded.

In most of the cases, technicians turned on the system after a student or staffer reported a laptop missing and turned it off when the machine was found, the investigators determined.

But in at least five instances, school employees let the Web cams keep clicking for days or weeks after students found their missing laptops, according to the review. Those computers - programmed to snap a photo and capture a screen shot every 15 minutes when the machine was on - fired nearly 13,000 images back to the school district servers. Lower Merion report: Web cams snapped 56,000 images

There's a picture on the web site of a kid named Blake Robbins sleeping. He is suing the school district.

It is just a bad idea to give anybody the ability to take candid photographs of teenagers in their own bedrooms and send them over the Internet. It doesn't matter how respectable the authority is, the potential for misuse here far outweighs the potential benefits. If you were in a meeting of school administrators and somebody suggested that you give students computers with cameras that can remotely take pictures of them in their time away from school, wouldn't you want to say, "Uh, no, that is not a good idea?" Apparently nobody in this school district said anything.

The good news is that so far no one has apparently reported any sex or nudity in the photographs.
Lower Merion began using the system after deciding to give each of its nearly 2,300 high school students their own laptop computer. The program started in 2008 at Harriton High School and expanded this school year to Lower Merion High.

In addition to the photos and screen shots, the technology also used the laptop's Internet address to pinpoint its location. The system was designed to automatically purge all the images after the tracking was deactivated.

Apparently the images were not purged.
Only two employees - information systems coordinator Carol Cafiero and network technician Mike Perbix - have the ability to actually turn on and off the tracking. Hockeimer said the district investigators have no evidence to suggest either Perbix or Cafiero activated the system without being asked.

But the requests were loose and disorganized, he said, sometimes amounting to just an brief e-mail.

"The whole situation was riddled with the problem of not having any written policies and procedures in place," Hockeimer said. "And that impacted so much of what happened here."

Robbins has claimed that an assistant principal confronted him in November with a Web cam photo of him in his bedroom. Robbins said the photo shows him with a handful of Mike & Ike candies, but that the assistant principal thought they were drugs.

His attorney, Haltzman, greeted the release of the numbers skeptically.

"I wish the school district would have come clean earlier, as soon as they had this information and not waiting until something was filed in court revealing the extent of the spying," he said.

Confronted him with a handful of candy that they thought was drugs.

Most of the pictures were taken from stolen laptops, in an effort to figure out who had them, I don't think anybody would be too concerned about that, if that's all it was. But the school does not need to send cameras into students' homes to see whether they are using drugs.

Hopefully this school's embarrassment will send a message to other administrators around the country who might wish they could spy on students.

We live in a time when the boundary between public and private behavior has been worn very thin. There are cameras everywhere, your cell phone is constantly broadcasting your location, people go online and tweet every time they pick their nose. I don't like it. I like to be able to get away with things sometimes, I'm a decent law-abiding citizen but I don't like everybody to know what I'm doing every second of the day. There are obviously people who don't feel like me, who feel that private behavior should meet a public standard. I'm sorry, but I believe in trial-and-error learning, and that means errors, and I don't want every mistake I make broadcast to the whole world. The idea that a school would record the private behavior of its students gives me chills.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I {gulp} agree with Jim. (I'm off to the doctor's now, making sure that early Alzheimer's hasn't set in....)

April 22, 2010 2:52 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I think we should bronze this moment.

April 23, 2010 4:07 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jim would probably want silver and then the moment would be ruined.

April 23, 2010 10:06 AM  

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