You’ve probably heard by now about the school district in Pennsylvania that was using webcams in school-issued laptops to spy on students. And they might never have known except for one observant administrator who saw a student engaging in behavior mistaken for pill-popping and confronted him – at which point it was revealed that those “pills” were actually candy. Unsurprisingly, the student’s parents were wondering how the school knew about something that had happened in his house – which is when it all came tumbling down.
The school still maintains that the remote-webcam-activation was actually a “security feature” intended to help them recover lost or stolen laptops. Of course, the student in question didn’t have a lost or stolen laptop – just one he’d failed to pay the $55 security deposit for.
But now there’s a lawsuit, which means there’s discovery, and a motion filed by the students’ attorney last week claims that the school might have thousands of images collected by the school, many of which featured students who did not have lost or stolen (or uninsured) laptops. And according to the motion, “There were numerous webcam pictures of Blake and other members of his family, including pictures of Blake partially undressed and of Blake sleeping.” Which is just, you know, kind of creepy.
The motion itself is an attempt to get to the personal computers of school technology coordinator Carol Cafiero, who recently took the Fifth during a deposition. She was one of a very few administrators able to access the images, and the students’ attorney is calling her a “voyeur” – largely because of an email exchange between her and a colleague, who noted that seeing the webcam footage was kind of like a “soap opera” – to which Cafiero replied, “I know, I love it!”
I wrote some time ago about the iPhone tracking that some schools in Japan were implementing and noted the similarities to Cory Doctorow’s science fiction novel Little Brother. I think the comparison is even more apt here, and I think a lot of people are unsettled by the situation. The post from Threat Level on this subject included with permission one of the images that a laptop recorded, of a student sleeping. The schools might have seemed like Santa Claus, giving away laptops for free… but now they see you when you’re sleeping, they know when you’re awake, they know if you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake.