In a class action lawsuit filed today and reported on my BoingBoing, the Consumerist and Business Insider Law Review comes news that the Lower Merion School District was allowing remote access to webcams in school issued laptops, and one of the pictures was used to discipline a student for actions taken on the computer when the student was at home. I wonder if the school district ever Googled the phrase “high school teacher sleeps with student”.
What makes this fundamentally interesting is that we already live in a Panopticon (also here) of surveillance cameras around the world, and what we do or say on the internet. This is the first time though outside of law enforcement that I am aware of that a house has been “bugged” (for want of a better word) by a school district. Many people labor under similar circumstances of panopticon style monitoring, from Military Bloggers, to the surveillance camera installations and data extraction in the UK, to a supposed backdoor in Skype that could be remotely activated to listen in if you had Skype on your computer. What would have been the first question out of my mouth on this would be who is going to have access to the data off those cameras and how is it going to be used. While I personally think the whole idea is bad, and would not want my school district monitoring my kid’s activity on the network, obviously someone along the way thought that the benefits outweighed the risks.
What I believe is that the school district engaged in and caused a major breach of trust between parents, students and the district. This will have long lasting ramifications, because every parent is going to want to know what is on a school issued laptop anywhere now. If other school districts engaged in the same activities there will be similar lawsuits across the USA. What should be the underlying fear for parents and high school students is who is really on the other end of that web cam and what are they doing with the data they collect.
The sad part is the damage that will be done if and/or when those student pictures show up on the internet, because they will if anyone with bad intent gets their hands on them. We have already seen this in action on other supposedly closed systems because voyeurism is going to happen even with good technical or procedural controls (see the Full Body Scanner issue in the UK where a Bollywood star has his Body Scanner picture flipped and released on the internet) on the systems in place. This is technology that is ripe for abuse, and odds are high on likely that it already has been. Abuse by anyone in the school district is plausible and in my opinion stands a much higher risk of ruining a student’s life than sexting and charging students under child porn laws.
It will be interesting to see the effects of this class action lawsuit, and you can read the entire lawsuit here, it makes for fascinating reading.
(Cross-posted @ IT Toolbox)