Saturday, February 20, 2010

Schools spying on kids – at home – using webcams!!??

– Could it be happening here?

This one sounded too outrageous to be true, so I did a lot of checking before posting. Sadly, it looks like the outrageous indeed has happened.

A lawsuit filed earlier this week alleges the Lower Merion School District in Ardmore, Pennsylvania issued some of its high school students laptop computers with webcams – and secretly embedded software that allows the school system to spy on kids anywhere the computers are connected to the Internet – even at home!

The story first broke in the several days ago blogs, but now, even the Philadelphia Enquirer and the Associated Press are running stories that are showing up across the country.

According to this incredible story, the lawsuit alleges a child was spied upon at home – and then disciplined by the school system for whatever they saw via the webcam!

The inevitable lawsuit was filed as a class action in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

More blog articles indicate other students have already joined this class action suit.

If the parents prevail, I’d bet the cost to the district will be considerable.

There also may be an FBI criminal investigation because federal wiretap laws may have been broken by the school district’s activities.

Anyway, why is this of interest in Kentucky?

We know school systems here, such as in Louisville, have provided loaner laptops to their students to take home.

We don’t know if those computers also contained similar “security” software (can you say “snoopware”) that would allow the districts to remotely access webcams or internal microphones. However, the suit developing in Pennsylvania, and the potential criminal investigation, certainly are raising a host of questions that we need to ask here in Kentucky.

In any event:

If you are a parent or student:

Be advised that the technology exists to surreptitiously and remotely activate a webcam (or a built-in or attached microphone) in a school loaner laptop without the user knowing this is happening.

Schools can, and have, used such software.

Schools apparently operated under the presumption that they didn’t need to tell parents and students about the existence of such software in the loaner computers and that such software was legal.

If you don’t have kids:

A computer virus can do the same thing, taking over your webcam without your knowledge.

So, why are all of you running to get the electrical tape to cover over your webcam? Did you think about how to block your computer’s microphone, as well (do you even know where that is)? Tape might not work for that job.

Now you know why the Bluegrass Institute is concerned about government transparency and excesses. If the schools in Pennsylvania had been open about what they were doing, maybe a lot of grief and invasion of privacy could have been avoided.

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