Lower Merion webcam scandal: School officials didn't mean to spy

Summary:A report found no evidence that officials with the Lower Merion School District intended to spy on students when they remotely activated the webcams on those machines.

The school district in Pennsylvania that found itself in a legal and public relations nightmare for reportedly activating the webcams of school-issued computers and snapping images of students - and their families - in their homes was not engaged in any spying tactics, according to a report conducted by lawyers hired by the district.

In a nutshell, that means that school administrators with the Lower Merion School District meant no harm when they snapped some 30,000 webcam images and another 27,000 screenshot images. Instead, the district and school administrators were careless and failed to use good judgement surrounding the TheftTrack feature built into the remote access program on these laptops. From the report:

...the collection of images from laptops while they were in the possession of students resulted from the District’s failure to implement policies, procedures, and recordkeeping requirements and the overzealous and questionable use of technology by IS personnel without any apparent regard for privacy considerations or sufficient consultation with administrators.

Further, the investigation found no evidence that the district board members of top-level administrators knew how the feature worked or understood that large collections of images could be collected from "unsuspecting" students. The report goes on to say:

To the limited extent that certain of them received indications of the IS Department’s ability to “track” student laptops, those individuals did not appreciate the potential of that ability to raise serious privacy concerns, and they should have sought more information about TheftTrack from IS personnel and/or advice from the District solicitor.

So, basically, they're pleading ignorance and, in essence, placing blame on the IS staff and pointing to incidents that illustrate that staff's "unwillingness" to let anyone outside the IS staff know about the TheftTrack feature.

Maybe I'm feeling a bit grumpy about this whole thing but ignorance, in my opinion, is no excuse.

These district and school administrators are charged with protecting students and keeping them out of harm's way. To use the "we didn't know" defense doesn't cut it here because they should have made it their business to find out.

Did the district really make an investment this big - an Apple laptop for every high school student - without bothering to find out what they were getting and, more importantly, what they were getting themselves into?

There's no going back to undo what's been done already. But I certainly there have been some lessons learned - especially by other school administrators elsewhere who really have no understanding of the technology that's being used by their students.

Topics: Laptops, Hardware, Mobility

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