Sunday, February 21, 2010

PA school district "accidentally" spies on students at home with webcam on lent-out laptops

Here’s a good one. A school district in Pennsylvania lent laptops to students in a technology class and then installed tracking software that allowed school officials to monitor the kids at home. According to an eWeek story, the FBI is now investigating webcam spy allegations against the school (link here). Apparently school officials accused a particular student of improper behavior based on a photo placed on the laptop, and the parents turned around and sued the school district, the Lower Merion School District in Penn Valley, PA.

The school district issued an apology letter (shown here) and says that the tracking software was only intended to locate lost laptops. But then why was the student accused?

Of course, the situation could be similar to use of company-issued laptops from work. They should be used only for legitimate business purposes (often on-call support). Companies would have the ability to inspect the laptops when at work, or to inspect communications sent back to their servers. The same rules would apply to school districts.

CNN talked about this case, and a couple of lawyers (Richard Herman) called the school district’s conduct “criminal.”

One other thing: kids generally don’t have a legitimate need for webcams at home, until they’re old enough anyway.

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