Big Bro's Big Bro: Feds in on School Spying Case
If you too have been avidly following the case of the spying school, there is news today as reported by The New York Times and PCWorld. Last week, a post on this blog reported the suit brought by a high school student and his parents against the Lower Merion School District in Pennsylvania, for allegedly spying on the plaintiffs and every other high school student via the webcams attached to school issued laptops. As you may know, the suit by student Blake Robbins accuses the District of breaking several electronic and privacy laws and has engendered an bit of an uproar. A follow-up post here discussed the reply by the District to the suit.
As The Times reported yesterday, all the twittering, blogging and suit filing has attracted the attention of the FBI, who are now on the case as well. According to Times sources, the FBI is looking into whether or not the besieged school district broke any federal wire tap or computer intrusion laws when it activated the webcams. According to The Times report, the District now says they activated the cameras 42 times in the last 14 months to "find missing computers."
Except perhaps, in the event that started it all? As PCWorld notes in its take on this e-debacle, (and as noted in the prior post here) there is a small but sharp divergence in the stories of the plaintiffs and the school district regarding the act that motivated the Robbins family to file suit in the first place. As alleged in the Complaint, the Robbinses were first notified that the webcam on Blake's school laptop had been used when the assistant principal allegedly accused him of "improper behavior" as captured in a photo by the laptop camera. PCWorld now reports that the so-called improper behavior was Blake popping a few Mike & Ike candies while logged on. According to the student, someone on the school's end apparently mistook the capsule shaped candy for drugs. The school still maintains they only activate the cameras if a computer is reported lost or stolen, not if suspicious snacking occurs.
But, this question remains; is there any report available that shows Blake Robbins computer was lost or stolen, therefore providing even the slightest excuse for triggering the use of the webcam? At this time it still appears, as PCWorld says, "somebody's fibbing."
Finally, according to most reports, the school never clarified for parents or students that they would have the ability to activate the webcams on the forms parents reviewed and/or signed regarding the laptop's use. The Times reports Doug Young, a district spokesman said, "It's clear what was in place was insufficient, and that's unacceptable."
Don't adjust your webcam, there is surely more to come.
- F.B.I. Queries Webcam Use by Schools (New York Times)
- School Spycam Case Raises FBI Eyebrows (PCWorld)
- Mike & Ike Candy
- Update from Dr. McGinley regarding high school student laptop security - 2/19/10 (Lower Merion School District)
- Electronic communication privacy act (FindLaw's LawBrian)