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School officials continue dodging questions about webcam surveillance

Written by Rich Fiscus (Google+) @ 23 Feb 2010 11:29 User comments (11)

School officials continue dodging questions about webcam surveillance After the lawsuit over Harriton High School's alleged webcam surveillance triggered an FBI investigation, you would hope school officials would come clean about what they characterize as completely legitimate security activities. Yet Lower Merion School District's response to parents seems to raise more questions than it answers.
In a statement on the district's website, Superintendent Dr. Christopher W. McGinley seems to imply it was against school policy for students to take the laptops home. He wrote "this feature was limited to taking a still image of the computer user and an image of the desktop in order to help locate the reported missing, lost, or stolen computer (this includes tracking down a loaner computer that, against regulations, might be taken off campus)."

A FAQ on the district's website clearly states that laptops may be taken off campus as long as the student has paid for the optional insurance offered by the district.

Superintendent McGinley acknowledges this later in his statement, which says there is "no reason to be concerned about the use of the laptop on campus or at home." So why bring it up if it's not relevant to the allegations?

He also indicated that the district never accessed laptops remotely "which were not lost, missing or stolen," but once again this isn't as clear as it seems on the surface. How exactly did the district know a laptop was missing?

You might assume it would have to be reported by the student whose computer was missing, but that doesn't appear to be the case.

A testimonial by Lower Merion School District Network Tech Mike Perbix was used to market LANRev, the product used to remotely access the webcams. In it he describes tracking a computer he thought was missing, but which further investigation (using the webcam) determined was actually being used in a classroom.



There may be good reasons for believing a laptop was missing without a student reporting it, but why not explain the criteria if it would clear district employees?

Reports from other students also cast doubt over the superintendent's claim. At least two different students have reported that the lights on their webcams would occasionally light up for no apparent reason.

One was reportedly told this was "just a glitch." Another supposedly claimed to have asked "an IT guy" about it, who explained it was the result of logging out while an application was using the camera.

A discussion which Mike Perbix took part in on a system administration mailing list suggests an alternate explanation. He described how to disable the webcam for standard (user) applications while leaving it available for LANRev.

This would make perfect sense if the intention was to convince students the webcams weren't working properly when in fact they were being used covertly.

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11 user comments

123.2.2010 12:21

They don't want to comment because know what they did was wrong.

223.2.2010 12:41

Maybe , + legal procedings ongoing + I personally think it is a good idea IF followed up through legal channels.. and inform the parents students and get signed OK .. etc etc the parents/students are responsible for the pc ..

323.2.2010 12:44

it's taking too long, for the last 2 weeks the people with access have been deleting, formatting and 7passDODing their hard drives in an attempt to wipe the images of school kids in their bedrooms.

the parents should have gone straight to the feds and the feds should have organised a midnight raid

423.2.2010 12:49

Originally posted by wanttono:
Maybe , + legal procedings ongoing + I personally think it is a good idea IF followed up through legal channels.. and inform the parents students and get signed OK .. etc etc the parents/students are responsible for the pc ..


The parents and students are already responsible for the PC or else it isn't allowed off campus. In order to take it off campus they first have to pay a $55 insurance premium. If it gets stolen while off campus they're also on the hook for the $100 deductible.

The ongoing legal issues shouldn't matter. If the school has a policy it's the public's right to know what the policy is. The fact that the policy may be illegal doesn't give them the right to lie to parents. And make no mistake, this line of BS is a lie by ommission.

523.2.2010 13:22
jony218
Inactive

If the computers belong to the school they can do whatever they want with them, install whatever software they want.
If people don't want to be spied on, don't accept anything from the government, buy your own laptop.
Just like your boss can read your emails from your company issued computer or find out who you been calling on the company cellphone or where your driving the company vehicule.
School equals government, government equals spying on people. Accept responsibility for your own privacy, don't expect the government to respect your privacy. It's a given that the government spies on people, someone correct me if I'm wrong.

623.2.2010 13:40

"Using the webcam in case of theft" is just some pretext, and excuse to really spy on the students.

The schools got these laptops from the government through a government grant, so it's not really the schools, but the government that is doing the spying. This type of spying is just another way to watch us.

This article from prisonplanet.com
explains more about how this incident is just a small part of a ever growing plan that the government is implementing.

723.2.2010 13:50

Originally posted by jony218:
If the computers belong to the school they can do whatever they want with them, install whatever software they want.

Installing whatever software they want doesn't equate to doing anything they want. Accepting a laptop from a public school doesn't negate your 4th amendment rights. Video surveillance without a warrant in places you have a reasonable expectation of privacy, including your home and certain locations in almost any building, whether public or private, has been ruled by the courts to violate the 4th amendment.
Quote:
If people don't want to be spied on, don't accept anything from the government, buy your own laptop.

The students at this school are required to use school provided laptops for schoolwork.
Quote:
Just like your boss can read your emails from your company issued computer

Corporate email isn't warrantless surveillance in a private residence. It also requires that you sign an agreement to let your employer read personal emails, otherwise it isn't legal. That's why such an agreement is standard for pretty much any business that provides you with an email address.

Quote:
or find out who you been calling on the company cellphone or where your driving the company vehicule.
To the best of my knowledge no one has suggested the school doesn't have a right to determine where the laptops are or look at a student's browsing history. We're talking about video surveillance, which isn't even slightly analagous to tracking the computer's location or what other computers it has communicated with.

Neither the parents nor the students were ever told that the school could spy on their activities, and even if they had been it would still be illegal to do so. Schools provide books to students all the time. Are you suggesting it would be legal for them to put a hidden camera in a textbook and transmit video from inside your house? After all you have a school issued textbook.
This message has been edited since its posting. Latest edit was made on 23 Feb 2010 @ 13:51

823.2.2010 14:10

If my web cam light goes on for no reason im getting the tape but hey im kinda paranoid.

923.2.2010 15:02

Tried and convicted! .. what a great system we have!

The ongoing legal issues shouldn't matter. If the school has a policy it's the public's right to know what the policy is. The fact that the policy may be illegal doesn't give them the right to lie to parents. And make no mistake, this line of BS is a lie by ommission
Freedom of speech is ultra important so stupid people will make their stupid statements so we know how stupid they are.

- Ted Nugent.


1023.2.2010 15:54

Originally posted by wanttono:
Tried and convicted! .. what a great system we have!

I wasn't aware Afterdawn was a court of law.

And you don't have to be a fireman to know when somebody is blowing smoke up your backside.

1125.2.2010 7:41

I bet the school's IT department is thinking "Wish we had thought of suggesting a GPS location system instead..."

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