Tuesday, February 23, 2010
Did school spy on student? FBI investigating
A Philadelphia-area family has filed a lawsuit against their child's school district for spying on students using Webcams on a school-supplied laptops inside students' homes, and the FBI is investigating, the Washington Post reports. "The FBI will explore whether Lower Merion School District officials broke any federal wiretap or computer-intrusion laws." The district supplies laptops to all 2,300 students at its two high schools, the Post added. At CNET, ConnectSafely's Larry Magid blogged that the remote Webcam monitoring (which the district said is now disabled) was a security measure activated only by the district's security and technology department when a laptop had been reported missing or stolen. "The tracking-security feature was limited to taking a still image of the operator and the operator's screen," Magid reported. The Post article says the district has acknowledged that Webcams had been activated "42 times in the past 14 months," and the activations had helped the school find 18 of the 42 missing computers. But the issue that led to the lawsuit so far doesn't seem to be theft-related. "According to the suit, Harriton vice principal Lindy Matsko told Blake on Nov. 11 that the school [one of the district's two high schools] thought he was 'engaged in improper behavior in his home.' She allegedly cited as evidence a photograph 'embedded' in his school-issued laptop," according to the Post. This is pretty chilling behavior on the part of school officials. "The case shows how even well-intentioned plans can go awry if officials fail to understand the technology and its potential consequences," the Post cites privacy experts as saying. Compromising images from inside a student's bedroom could fall into the hands of rogue school staff or otherwise be spread across the Internet, they said." For anyone worried about being watched remotely through their Webcam, here's some clarity in another piece by Larry Magid at CNET.