High school uses notebook webcams to spy on students

By Matthew ยท 51 replies
Feb 19, 2010
  1. The parents of a Lower Merion high school student have filed suit against the district for using school-issued laptops to spy on kids. The school rigged notebooks with software that lets officials remotely view and capture images with the built-in camera -- a mechanism that was supposedly greatly misused. The plaintiff's child claims to have been disciplined in school for "improper behavior" at home, and the Vice Principal used a photo taken by the webcam as evidence.

    Read the whole story
  2. mattfrompa

    mattfrompa TS Evangelist Posts: 553   +57

    Eeven if it is against the law, I think that if a notebook is SCHOOL ISSUED, then even if the student is at home, administrators should be allowed to access anything on the machine for appropriate reasons. I also believe if the misbehavior is being conducted with the assistance of the school issued machine, then the school district should not be at fault. For example, if he was going to inappropriate sites on the school machine, even if he is at home then the camera should be allowed to be used for user verification. However if set up properly the school firewall should still filter his traffic. Also if the student was misbehaving and using the notebook to record the activity, then the student should be at fault. If however, the student's activity had nothing to do with said notebook, and the camera was activated by an administartor, then the activity should not be reported. Because then the camera is being used like a surveillance camera, which I certainly disagree with.
  3. Punkid

    Punkid TS Guru Posts: 422   +7

    wow thats not nice :p
  4. i don't care how you dress it up, remotely activating a camera on a students laptop without notification is spying and no doubt legally dubious.
  5. Punkid

    Punkid TS Guru Posts: 422   +7

    yea i wouldnt want someone to activate my camera while im doing something private :S
  6. TomSEA

    TomSEA TechSpot Chancellor Posts: 2,718   +860

    Hmmm...not sure I entirely agree with your argument mattfrompa. Agreed that if you're issued a school laptop, then usage should be certainly restricted to school-type activities and work. But that's easily done with filters and permission settings.

    But to just randomly turn on the web camera without the user's knowledge, scan the room and see what's going on? That ain't right... They could remote in and see what apps are currently being used if they are concerned with usage. Lighting up the camera puts their monitoring into a whole different category.
  7. this is a bunch of bull - while he may have gotten off the hot seat with some folks -- how many in the IT industry thinks this a bunch of hooey?

    What good does just taking snapshot of the "theif" do - that isn't going to tell you WHERE the notebook is - just who happens to be in front of it at the present time.

    and if the notebook was indeed stolen - why would the IT dept have anything to do with the investigation and arrest of the perpetrator? I think that would be Law enforcement.

    We purchased tracking/theft on some of our notebooks - but it has nothing to do with the webcam.

    They might pull the wool over someones eyes, but not mine.

    Someone needs to get this board and "nail" them to the wall
  8. You've got to be kidding me mattfrompa! Schools are now above the law??? WHAT?????
    The fact that school administrator even has the ability to "spy" on a student outside of school property for whatever reason is totally out of bounds. Way outta bounds! Like, way out of the Privacy Act of 1974- bounds. This is unlawful search and seizure and violates the right to privacy per-se.

    Let me try and follow your logic here matformpa: The school issues the laptop, the student a minor by the way, uses the laptop at his home, for what is deemed by some public school "official" as inappropriate behavior (whatever that means) and the kid is suspended. Hell the FBI can't even do this legally without a warrant unless it falls under the the DOJ exceptions which it does not. When the school gives you a laptop that was purchased by the way with our tax dollars, the really aren't giving you anything, more like leasing it to you for nothing. You sign an agreement and send in an insurance deposit -at least that is how it is done with my sons program. No camera program to spy on my kid thank you. In or outta of school I am the parent and that is where the buck stops. This is wrong, wrong, wrong to have the ability to spy on a kid, my kid maybe- in my home, after school. Looks like we will be keeping the lap top in the closet when it is home from school.
  9. mattfrompa probably works for the school, lol.
  10. Timonius

    Timonius TS Evangelist Posts: 647   +58

    Hmmm... a simple piece of tape over the camera should do just fine. Why do people make such issues out things that have a simple solution (privacy issues being another matter altogether).
  11. whether or not im a student or anyone else for that matter (parents might be looking at the notebook to check on their students work) I should not have to "tape" over a device that has completely ligitimate (and legal) uses to be sure I'm not being spied on.

    I hope this little gaff costs the school system a fortune and that someone looses their job over this. No matter how acceptable they try to spin this, no one without a search warrant should have the authority to approve this.

    If the webcam was actually used to capture something that the school district felt "improper" - that goes way above and beyond what would be appropriate monitoring. If they want to filter, take screen shots unannounced and present those screen shots to the parents - that's another story - but the webcam - off limits.
  12. To add to my previous post - what if the parents where looking at the kid's notebook in various stages of undress? Should you now post that the parents need to be fully clothed inside their own house before looking at the notebook? Go ahead and try that one on.

    If i was a parent of these kids - i would be incensed over this possibility.
  13. "For example, if he was going to inappropriate sites on the school machine, even if he is at home then the camera should be allowed to be used for user verification."

    Did you even think before you typed that? If someone is looking at porn, that is not the time to video them. ;)
  14. Wendig0

    Wendig0 TechSpot Paladin Posts: 1,136   +131

    I vehemently disagree. This is a school issued laptop, to highschool aged kids. If the laptop has not been reported stolen, there is absolutely no reason to turn this function on. An IT administrator can easily tell if the laptop has been used inappropriately and revoke priveledges to the student without the need of a built in webcam for user verification.

    Here's a scenario for you - Kid comes home from school, begins doing homework online but is going out later on, so he/she takes a shower. The school administrator randomly turns the camera on for user verification just as the student is exiting the shower. Meanwhile there's an IT administrator (who may or may not be a pervert) at the school secretly watching the student traipse around their room naked. Something about this scenario disturbs me. Students NEVER do their homework right after school.
  15. EXCellR8

    EXCellR8 The Conservative Posts: 1,835

    Heard about this from a different source... def. invasion of privacy if you ask me.

    Just another reason why laptops in a high school setting are a HUGE waste of money.
  16. Problem: School spying on you using Web cam on school issued Lap top.
    Solution: Duct Tape
    And if they get in a tizzy about not being able to "verify" the user because there was tape over then lens, then you know that they were trying to spy on you and that they also cannot prove that it was you using the computer at the time they took control of the web cam.
  17. satty

    satty TS Rookie Posts: 27

    if i was one of them(students) i will cover the cam with some chewing gum or plaster
  18. Burty117

    Burty117 TechSpot Chancellor Posts: 3,147   +915

    Yeah see, I don't see this as a big thing, its school propertie so they can do what ever they want with it. They should send a letter round the parents and warn them of what they can do with the laptop, If the parents don't like it or the student then don't use it! Go buy your own laptop and stop crying.
  19. davimous

    davimous TS Rookie Posts: 55   +9

    Funny true story. My girlfriend has a piece of tape over her laptops webcam in fear of a hacker activating/viewing it. As a young male my self I would have to fight the urge to stick my privates right in front of the webcam for the principal to see.
  20. The bad behavior of the kid who got his picture taken at home...was reported to the parents as 'pill popping". The kid was eating Mike & Ike candies and the school admin thought it was pills. LOL too funny. Think about this tho., If the FBI can activate you cell phone mic even when the phone is turned off then im sure someone can do the same to the laptop mic or cam., (goto youtube and search if your not familiar with that)

    The blood sucking lawyers are talking class action suit now. They are swarming because this is an easy meal for them. In class action suits the lawyers get the most.
  21. Not only did the school violate probably a state law they have violated at least one if not more federal laws concerning wiretapping, eavesdropping, a use of video surveillance without posting signs on the laptop itself and in any room the school has these computers. Whoever installed this feature and anyone who activated it may be on their way to Leavenworth or some other federal prision, if some smart parents file civil rights case or calls the FBI to report illegal wiretapping/surveillance. Remember folks video surveillance is not allowed IF A PERSON HAS THE EXPECTATION OF PRIVACY, ie. You cannot be surveilled in your house if you have curtains pulled or no reasonable person could see you from street, now if you are dancing naked in front of the picture window, you have given up that expectation of privacy. If you are conducting an illegal activity say on a public street or using an open type pay phone, big brother can record your voice or video tape you all they want. Just as if a person wants to wander a public beach and photograph/video people they can shoot all they want, the people are in a public area and give up the right to expectation of privacy, but within reason. That is why paparazzi photographers can be right up against celbs on the street, public street public place.

    you can use video with microphone IF YOU POST A VISIBLE WARNING TO PEOPLE ENTERING PREMISES THAT VIDEO AND AUDIO MONITORING ARE IN USE! No visible warning somebody is gonna be a cell mate to bubba!!

    bada bing bada boom
  22. foreverzero89

    foreverzero89 TS Enthusiast Posts: 217

    if any of you can't see how such a huge deal this is, then please go kill yourself now and rid the world of your stupidity.

    this is just so wrong on so many levels, the school should only be able to monitor the laptop when two conditions are met: during school hours and while on campus, other than that turn off your damned spy cam. this is such an invasion and anyone who has fallen victim should feel violated.

    i hope these parents take the school for all they've got, get the people who's idea this was fired and anyone along the way who didn't question if what they were doing is right.
  23. mattfrompa

    mattfrompa TS Evangelist Posts: 553   +57

    In response to several users, I admittedly do work for A school district, however I want to be clear in stating I have nothing to due with the district in question. Firstly, I must say I DO NOT agree with randomly utilizing a laptop's camera to simply "check in". The only time it should even be considered is when an administrator is inspecting logs, and finds something suspicious. I didn't see anything addressing the time in the pdf, but I know I don't even examine logs off the clock, so I would not even have the opportunity to attempt such acts. The district I work at also does not issue student laptops to take home (partially due to lack of funding, but more so due to the degree of mistreatment even on school grounds.) The students and faculty understand their activity is monitored, yet the amount of misuse of school property (yes, a portion of your tax dollars goes to it, but it also goes to governmental property which you don't have ownership of either. Your return on investment is the service performed.) I must state that in the process of of issuing punishment, certainly the first step should simply be observing the student's desktop, but only if the activity appears to still be in progress. Then the only reason I meant to say that the camera should be used is for user identification. Sure, the student should be logging into their own account with a strong password, but what I don't want is for an account to be compromised and the student be held responsible if it can be avoided. In most cases though it seems to me that administrators would be finding the activity "after the fact" anyways. I think those who believe the administrators should be fired immediately are being far too intolerant. I am not quick for anyone to lose their job, particularly when someone has a home and family to think about. This is a situation which requires an in depth, logical, unbiased analysis. If you were able to formulate your opinion in under a minute, I don't believe you have given the situation enough rational thought. I know I am personally not 100% firm on my viewpoint, but please do not expect to change my views with any kind of insults, or that you can really slam your gavel the same day you heard about this. (I know, this does not apply to everyone) I would not even attempt to do anything similar at work. I work within what I already know is permissible, because I understand that even with the best intentions, law is law.
  24. There is keylogging software that can be remotely accessed to see if it is being abused. There is NO reason good enough for secret remote users accessing the webcam on a child's laptop. You tread on very thin ice if you think it's justifiable in ANY way. Think about it really hard.
  25. This seems to be the way America is going. Everybody is a cop. Now Google is partnering up with the NSA and you can't seem to get them out of your PC. We pushed the Pigs back in the 60's but the Sow is in heat again. Be afraid people, Very Afraid.
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