FBI will investigate school who used laptop webcams to spy on students

On Thursday Neowin reported on a shocking case at the Lower Merion High School district in Pennsylvania, U.S. An FBI official, speaking to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity, confirmed they will be opening up a criminal investigation over the matter.

Students issued laptops in the aforementioned district were given computers that could have their webcams remotely activated at the will of the school administrators. The practice had been in place for the past 14 months but was only discovered recently when a school punished a student named Blake Robbins for "improper behavior in his home," with the Vice Principal even providing a photo as evidence.  According to Boing Boing, a class action suit has been filed against the school, on behalf of all students issued the laptops.

The School issued a response to the recent reports and stated "the security feature was installed to help locate a laptop in the event it was reported lost, missing or stolen so that the laptop could be returned to the student." The school say they remotely activated webcams 42 times to find missing student laptops in the past 14 months, but never did so to spy on students, as the lawsuit claims. Dr. Christopher McGinley, Superintendent at the Lower Merion School District also said the school was sorry for its actions. "We regret if this situation has caused any concern or inconvenience among our students and families," he said.

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Gotta cry BS on the schools claims that it was just for locating lost laptops. So, the ONE time this just happen to turn it on by accident they catch a student doing something *IN THE PRIVACY OF THEIR OWN HOME* that they didn't like? Not likely.

For me the issue is that these are the clowns that will teach us, our children, and our grandchildren about civics, the Constitution, all the Amendments, The Bill of Rights, etc. Now that is even more scary than some administrator turning on a student's web cam while they are changing cloths or "sexting." The FBI would not be involved if this were just a civil matter. Clearly there are very likely Federal criminal law violations here. If so and convicted, I hope some jail time is meted out and the offenders are court ordered to teach students about the above mentioned subjects by webcam from their jail cells. The lesson would have great impact and be remembered for a long time...by students and the incarcerated educators. Now that would and should make a great youtube video.

I loved how the hot girl on the interview also says, "Sure I even take it into the bath room with me when I shower" ..

Now I don't know about any one else, but when I have a "Private Moment" I tend to unplug the webcam from the computer."

Now I know with a laptop its not that simple, but I guess some tape would work.

Apple-a-Day said,
makes you wonder just what the student was doing?

I wonder that the students never figured out what was going on -- could have had a lot of fun with that I imagine, as I can think of all sorts of things that could have been staged for the camera's benefit, & loads of laughs, teenage & otherwise. ;-)

It was drugs related ...

In an interview with CBS Evening News, plaintiff Blake Robbins said he was unaware that the camera could be activated at his house. “I thought that there was no way that they could do that at my home,” Robbins said, adding that the assistant principal “thought I was selling drugs, which is completely false.”

Notice how the females they are interviewing on TV are attractive. Which kind of defeats their purpose of being there. Because as you are watching it you are thinking "I'd love to watch you change" lol

Sometimes good things can and will be seen as bad things, or viceversa. I agree that the people behind this should be investigated, but let's not say they are perverts or pedos just because they were monitoring webcams on underage students laptops.

Sure, it is likely possible in this case but what if they just thought that remotely activating webcams was a good measure for security of their own laptops? The is a difference in being wrong about something and messing with a delicate matter just as privacy and being called pervert or pedo for it without reason.

If the investigation determines perversion or even pedophilia is involved, charge the hell out of them without doubt. If not, just fine him dearly so people can learn the lesson.

It is really surprising that this was even acceptable in the first place. If they really wanted to secure the laptops there are ways to do it without violating the users privacy. For instance the laptop could be designed to contact a server and check for status. If the status is set to 'lost' or 'stolen' it can then communicate its location to the server which can then be passed on to the authorities. This way the details are sent only under a status of 'lost' or 'stolen'. This also indicates a clear boundary as in if the status was set to stolen when it was not it is a clear violation of rules by the administrator.

I take it these kids are under the age of consent, so the parents would have to agree to the laptop loan agreement, and I am damn well sure that no parent would allow the spying on child any time of the day or night as long as the laptop is turned on.

What gets me is how many people did they spy on actively to find someone misbehaving?

"the security feature was installed to help locate a laptop in the event it was reported lost, missing or stolen so that the laptop could be returned to the student."

Lamest excuse ever! This is just blatant spying.

I hope they throw them into prison and throw away the key, and then Liberty will complain about their Human Rights. They lost their Human Rights when they breached protocol and spyed on students, on their laptops. I am getting off this topic before I get a warning.

It was drugs related ...

In an interview with CBS Evening News, plaintiff Blake Robbins said he was unaware that the camera could be activated at his house. “I thought that there was no way that they could do that at my home,” Robbins said, adding that the assistant principal “thought I was selling drugs, which is completely false.”

Edited by jasondefaoite, Feb 21 2010, 5:35pm :

Oh ya, let me install a web-cam broadcast it live to the WWW and place it at your toilet so we all can watch you do your business and then make sure you wipe your a*s and then wash your hands with soap. No, this is not breaking laws and your privacy but it is typical if a paranoid country. Their explanation is just an utter crap story. Demand to see all of their videos for the lat 14 months and demand that they do not tamper with then. I am sure you will uncover a pedophile or porno ring among the schools administration. This is just totally sick and perverted.

I just don't see how they thought they could get away with this. What if the kid was using the laptop naked? They would be so bused for child porn.

Every new computer that comes into my home gets a format and reinstall almost right away, you never know what Geek Squad or anyone between manufacturing and your house may have stuck on that machine.

It's incredibly creepy. Can you just imagine some old man (principal or whoever) watching a young girl as she is using her laptop at home in her bedroom? Shudder...

I don't know what these people were thinking but I hope they are fired from their jobs and end up in a court room getting their rear ends handed to them by a judge.

their excuse doesn't add up

"The practice had been in place for the past 14 months but was only discovered recently when a school punished a student named Blake Robbins for "improper behavior in his home"

how does a stolen laptop and "improper behavior in his home" punishment reason add up? This story makes me angry, I can't wait to hear about jail sentences.

Okay who the hell gave the school the right to educate people in their own homes??? That person who thought of this was really ****ed up! I mean this just shocked me, it truly did. It is NONE of their business what goes on in their students' homes, it is the parents' responsibility to look after their own kid, not the school's. I am reluctant to think they had any un-Christian motives for installing this system but it is preposterous and outrageous nonetheless.

Wait Wait WAIT a Minute.

"the security feature was installed to help locate a laptop in the event it was reported lost, missing or stolen so that the laptop could be returned to the student."

If this be true, how are you now punishing a student for what they did in their home ? If they reported the laptop stolen, then it's a criminal matter. This, so far as I can tell, has not happened, ergo wtf ?

Ryoken said,
Wait Wait WAIT a Minute.

"the security feature was installed to help locate a laptop in the event it was reported lost, missing or stolen so that the laptop could be returned to the student."

If this be true, how are you now punishing a student for what they did in their home ? If they reported the laptop stolen, then it's a criminal matter. This, so far as I can tell, has not happened, ergo wtf ?

but,what if the device was (falsely) declared as stolen?.

Edited by Brony, Feb 20 2010, 9:15pm :

I'm going to assume the original authors of this idea meant well, but seriously...when dealing with kids how could you NOT assume this would at some point end disastrously. GPS tracking next time, at the request of the owner/user only.

Solid Knight said,
Wait, how in the hell does the school have jurisdiction on what you do in your home? What was the "improper behavior"?

flapping?

It's a little disturbing, but had they (and their parents) been informed ahead of time, and authorized by said parents, it would have been legal. But ya.... I don't see the purpose of spying on the kids via the built in webcam.... unless you're a perv. *shrugs*

ON a related not, what was this alleged "improper behavior?"

Dr. Albert Spamstein said,
It's a little disturbing, but had they (and their parents) been informed ahead of time, and authorized by said parents, it would have been legal. But ya.... I don't see the purpose of spying on the kids via the built in webcam.... unless you're a perv. *shrugs*

ON a related not, what was this alleged "improper behavior?"

Chances are I'm willing to bet the student was an athlete of some kind. You so much as try to live a normal teenage life and you're punished by the school which I disagree with. Schools simply have NO authority of students when they are off campus. None. It is rubbish that they claim (Mine did as well) they do.

What I do in my home is my own business and no one else's.

Dr. Albert Spamstein said,
It's a little disturbing, but had they (and their parents) been informed ahead of time, and authorized by said parents, it would have been legal. But ya.... I don't see the purpose of spying on the kids via the built in webcam.... unless you're a perv. *shrugs*
No, that isn't always true that it's Legal just because the parents agreed. And given the chances that it could have caught one changing or something, that would make it very Very Illegal.

warwagon said,
What's worse is the the School administrator's office is going to glow like a Xmas tree under a black light.

That's nasty to even think about, but probably true.

how stupid can these people be...first they install software to spy on students through webcams and then they indirectly tell the world they were watching students by punishing a student for something he did at home and using a photo they shot as proof! =/

It's very common that if you lose a laptop or have it stolen that it is on, with network connectivity, and the lid open with the webcam pointing at a recognizable area.

/sarcasm

"the security feature was installed to help locate a laptop in the event it was reported lost, missing or stolen so that the laptop could be returned to the student."

Liar, Liar, pants on fire !

Stupid, they don't need the webcams to track their missing/stolen laptops. Use GPS tracker or something for that. Retards.

shozilla said,
Stupid, they don't need the webcams to track their missing/stolen laptops. Use GPS tracker or something for that. Retards.

Dont' fall for their lame excuse. That's the best they could come up with on the short notice. Although, in reality, you can see very well that they haven't been using webcam for tracking "lost" laptops, but rather to spy on students. Totally busted!

thealexweb said,
Good, arrest the perverts.

Specifically the idiots who ordered to spying in their students.

Edited by cabron, Feb 19 2010, 9:37pm :

thealexweb said,
Good, arrest the perverts.

Er...well...ok here's the thing.


I also want these admins to burn. This was a completely retarded move, and I don't buy that they used webcam feeds purely to locate missing lappies. I just can't believe that a bunch of people brainstormed the most effective technology for tracking and camhacking was considered the winning choice. Something criminal took place here, and anyone involved in the approval and execution process of this should be held responsible proportionate to their involvement.

But..."pervert" is one helluva conclusion to jump to. While it's possible, I think it's very telling of how low some people have fallen that they look for child predators at the first opportunity. Let the investigating take place and then let conclusions be drawn. Spying has existed for a long time, targeted at all age groups, for a large variety of reasons, and getting one's rocks off has only been one of them.

This is all very reminiscent of how it's become impossible to interact with anyone under 16 for any reason without people freaking out. The next time I hear about a guy getting the crap kicked out of him for administering first aid to an unrelated injured child, I'll think of you.

Edited by Joshie, Feb 19 2010, 10:41pm :

cabron said,
Seriously they should just add a GPS device inside to locate stolen laptops, period.
Even that (although less worse than what the did now) is a privacy concern though. What is to stop the school from finding out where there students hang out after school?

The only way I can see this work in a decent way is when the students are well informed on what tracking software is installed on their systems, what it can do, and when the students get the set the (strong) password to unlock the tracking themselves. So when the laptop is stolen *they* are the only one who can activate the tracking. If the laptop is stolen and the student forgot their password consider that the same as them loosing the laptop, teaches them some responsibility, after all the are in school to learn things.

cabron said,
Seriously they should just add a GPS device inside to locate stolen laptops, period.

GPS is far easier to do than remote access and is more reliable. Basically they are full of ****.

nubs said,

GPS is far easier to do than remote access and is more reliable.

Except that GPS hardware isn't generaly available as a built-in option on most laptops, especially the low-end ones that schools are likely to purchase for student use. Remote access software is far more cost effective. I'm not defending what they did in any way, but just pointing out the error in your logic here.

Joshie said,
But..."pervert" is one helluva conclusion to jump to. While it's possible, I think it's very telling of how low some people have fallen that they look for child predators at the first opportunity. Let the investigating take place and then let conclusions be drawn. Spying has existed for a long time, targeted at all age groups, for a large variety of reasons, and getting one's rocks off has only been one of them.

I guess you missed the other recent story about the Geek Squad tech who used similar software for exactly that purpose (against an adult, but the concept is the same).

roadwarrior said,

I guess you missed the other recent story about the Geek Squad tech who used similar software for exactly that purpose (against an adult, but the concept is the same).

His point still stands regardless.