This past weekend, in one of our many links, we mentioned this story here at the Big Bad Blog. It has since developed, and we have been watching it, absolutely fascinated.
What are you talking about?
I’m talking about the school in Pennsylvania that was accused of using laptops that it distributed to students as a tool to spy on them. This first came to light when a lawsuit was filed on behalf of one of the students, who was disciplined on the basis of what was seen on the video.
What are the developments?
Yes, the school has the ability to do this. The school sent a letter to parents which admits that they have a “security feature” that allows them to remotely activate the webcams.
Students could not opt out. Laptops provided by the school were mandatory for classes at the school, and disabling the webcam or “jailbreaking” the computer in order to monitor potential intrusions were both considered to be offences worthy of expulsion. (via Stryde Hax)
The student did nothing wrong. The laptop’s security feature, according to school policy, should not have been turned on — the laptop was never lost or stolen (or reported as lost or stolen). The behaviour worthy of discipline? Eating candy. Not only did somebody at the school take a photo using the webcam, but they mistook candy for drugs. (via NBC)
The FBI is now investigating. For reasons that should be obvious at this point. (via the Washington Post)
The Big Bad Opinion
Here at the Big Bad Blog, we are nothing if not flabbergasted.
The entire policy seems nothing short of foolish — laptops will certainly end up in teenagers’ bedrooms, and they have been enabled for remote activation and picture-taking. Beyond the issues being raised in the court case about privacy and illegal wiretapping — which are themselves valid concerns — the school appears to have created a child pornography network with the webcams. The policy is so foolish and poorly thought out as to be completely baffling.
If the school has been abusing the ability to operate the webcams remotely — and there is little doubt that they have, as this incident shows — it seems beyond doubt that there will have been photos taken of partially and/or completely naked children stored on school computers. Even if these were taken with the knowledge and consent of the children in question, they would be illegal.
This is a much more serious problem than the invasion of privacy. The penalties for such offenses are harsh, and the United States has a reputation for being ridiculously harsh — prosecuting teenagers for self-publishing photos of themselves in bikinis, for instance.
A school abusing its position of trust to secretly photograph kids? The prediction here is more revelations accompanying the FBI investigation, and some long prison sentences.