A new twist on “school-owned”

A recent Computerworld story reveals a shocking violation of student privacy from a Pennsylvania school district.

The Lower Merion School District of Ardmore, Pennsylvania, provided laptops to its students, complete with webcams. This by itself is not an issue. What is an issue is that the school district had the ability to remotely activate the webcam and see whatever was in front of it, without the students’ or parents’ consent or knowledge.

From the article:

Michael and Holly Robbins of Penn Valley, Pa., said they first found out about the alleged spying last November after their son Blake was accused by a Harriton High School official of “improper behavior in his home” and shown a photograph taken by his laptop.

An assistant principal at Harriton later confirmed that the district could remotely activate the Webcam in students’ laptops. “Michael Robbins thereafter verified, through [Assistant Principal] Ms. Matsko, that the school district in fact has the ability to remotely activate the Webcam contained in a student’s personal laptop computer issued by the school district at any time it chose and to view and capture whatever images were in front of the Webcam, all without the knowledge, permission or authorization of any persons then and there using the laptop computer,” the lawsuit stated.

What could they possibly have been thinking?

While at school or at school-sponsored activities, discipline is the school’s responsibility. Cameras in schools and on school buses are fine. However, it is really not the school’s realm to discipline outside of school hours and school functions, and usually what goes on at home is none of school officials’ business. (I say “usually” because adults have the legal responsibility to report suspected child abuse and things of that nature.)

Shame on the snoops at Harriton High. And kids, don’t assume anything about that shiny laptop the school gave you; if it’s the school’s computer, there’s the ever-present possibility it can do anything the school wants, including rat you out at home. Just ask Blake.