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Sometimes, somebody just has to go to ridiculous lengths to illustrate privacy problems
Thanks to the_nita for pointing out one of the most impressive invasions of privacy I've yet come across that *somebody* is probably going to try to claim is defensible.

Summary: reports are that a school district issued laptops to the kids, and then used them to spy on the kids at home via the webcam. I'm not yet certain that it's real -- it's the sort of story that often turns out to be some parent misconstruing the circumstances -- but it's sadly in line with a fair number of modern trends in the attitudes of schools towards children, and society towards citizens in general. In today's culture, you almost have to do something that is really harmful to children before anybody really pays attention. But this does seem to cross a bunch of memetic lines. God help the school officials if somebody finds pictures of children actually undressing: in modern America, anything that can be contrued as child porn is pretty much regarded as worse than murder.

Overall, though, this is one of those Risks Digest moments...

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One of my aunts, who works as a HS Math teacher in Maine, is truly worried about her district or the state spying on her via her computer. They outfitted all HS teachers with MacBooks awhile ago, with the built in camera, which she is worried they can turn on at will, similar to what is happening in the situation in PA.

Piece of electrical tape over the camera takes care of that.

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Macbook cameras have a green light that turns on whenever the camera is on; I don't believe you can change that behavior without hacking the OS itself. I like this design a lot; there have been times when software (like WebEx) have turned on my camera without me wanting it to happen or being aware of it, and the light let me know to turn it off.

The comment below will obviously also work :)

She should be more worried about them turning on the ability to see her screen.

I understand, but she is not worried about that.

Most companies and government agencies install a remote desktop feature on their computers in order to facilitate troubleshooting. Usually, the user has to activate the service in some fashion to allow the tech admin folks to "take control" (or at least you are walked through a process that gives you the illusion that they don't already have that control).

However, it would not surprise me in the least to know that this service is already active on a large number of those machines. At a guess, this service is probably active by default on those Philly computers....since the tech admin probably has the MAC addresses of all their machines, as long as the computer is powered up and connected to the Internet, they should be able to find it.

Normally I'd reassure her, on the theory that no bureaucracy would be stupid enough to do something that legally dangerous. But occasionally, people do live down below my expectations...

My response to her was something along the lines of there are thousands of high school teachers in the state. They are more likely to be checking browser history or something like that which can be done using a search program rather than having someone actually watch her as she inputs grades or creates lessons.

This is one of the main reasons I do absolutely nothing non-work related on my work computer. I just don't. I won't check LJ or Facebook or Ravelry on in from home--I don't want to take a chance at all. I doubt anyone in Lowell is savvy enough to check up on me remotely, but I also don't want the browser history to show anything out of the realm of absolutely mundane.

I can understand that. I don't worry about it so much, but programmers are *expected* to be weird -- I don't need to worry about reputation issues to the extent you do...

I hate to tell you, but that theory was disproven long ago.... 8^(

Most of the incidents I am aware of involve security folks who are concerned about preventing a potential problem (based on their experience) rather than reacting to a problem. However, that sort thinking runs counter to our current notions of privacy and jurisprudence.

Luckily, in those cases, there were other people watching the watchmen, so the overzealous usually got disciplined.

Defensible? Absolutely not (at least not according to what was reported). Assuming the report is factual, the limited use cited by the schoold district is that once the laptop is reported stolen or missing, the webcam is activated for a still picture.

The kid was called in because the webcam was activated and he was "doing something inappropriate" per the assistant principals words.

Whatever the kid was doing, the fact is that the webcam was activated outside parameters of the stated policy and guidelines. That action cannot be defended. Most people would be very surprised, not to mention horrified to know how often their "public access" systems are monitored....

I think all the school's press release tells us is that they're going to blame it all on the Principal.

This turns out to be relatively local to me. Some of the local news discussion boards are being peppered by students at this school who are saying how much they feel like they're being treated as criminals, and the attitudes of the administration and etc.

...which is not surprising, because that's exactly the way the administration treated us when I was in school, lo these twenty years and more ago.

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Slight tangent, but this:

in modern America, anything that can be contrued as child porn is pretty much regarded as worse than murder.

is why I have had to pre-emptively tell my kids, "No matter how hilarious you might think it is, it is never okay to take a picture of a kid's butt."

They were incredulous. Thankfully, they don't understand all that much about the reasons why, but it's one of those things that could have Very Very Very Very Very Very Bad consequences for ours or any family if someone found and misinterpreted it.

But ugh. Privacy issues. Another reason I'm glad we homeschool.

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