Governments spy, corporations spy, even schools spy

Governments spy, corporations spy, even schools spy

Summary: Surveillance has never been more rife. With corporations spying on their own staff, and schools spying on their own students, where is the line drawn?

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To think for one minute that the data you surreptitiously put out there, whether it's a phone call, an email, where you have last logged in to or what you just bought from Starbucks on your credit card, there will be a record of these things, somewhere.

to spy - noun [spa?] 1. a person who secretly watches and examines the actions of other individuals or organisations and gathers information on them (usually to gain an advantage).

There's nothing new here, even in light of the Lower Merion School District webcam spying fiasco. The only issue here is that images could have been taken of minors, which even when done legitimately for whatever reason, can face shaky legal standing.

My colleague Chris Dawson discussed and explained the school spying issue, and was covered elsewhere on ZDNet. The FBI has engaged in this legal dispute, while personal suits have been filed against the school and district.

So where should the surveillance line be drawn?

Last year, I wrote about Research in Motion, the manufacturers of the BlackBerry devices, monitoring their own workforce in Orwellian style; emails, phone calls and text messages being documented. Also on similar lines, police and universities have used Facebook to spy on student antics such as drinking and partying.

Traditional "spying" is old school in terms of the technology we have nowadays, along with the open nature that we still take with social networks and our own personal information.

One could argue until the cows come home how important privacy is to the end user, but information nowadays is more powerful than money.

I don't condone the behaviour of those involved in the school webcam scandal, nor do I necessarily agree with the surveillance tactics of those with the authority. But in this day and age, it depresses me to know that the level of surveillance we are under and continue to endure is inevitable.

I wish I could write something cheery and happy, but doom and gloom is what I do best.

Topics: Government US, Government

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21 comments
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  • This is stupid

    I'm pretty sure that those doing the "monitoring" we're once 16. Before you points your hands, please make sure yours are clean.


    I [b]DO[/b] have a right to privacy. It might not be written in The Constitution, but has a human being, it is just a given. The Police should not be browsing Facebook to find where the party is at. Why are they doing that? Are they that bored?

    LMSD SHOULD NOT be using those cams inside the home. PERIOD. What I do there is not the school's business. If a laptop is missing there are better ways to track them that will not possibly invade the space of a minor.


    People are getting carried away with this, and that could lead down a more dangerous path...
    The one and only, Cylon Centurion
    • I don't think so

      You say "... a right to privacy. It might not be written in The Constitution, but has a human being, it is just a given." That is false. Rights mean nothing outside of a legal context. Being human as such confers no rights. The concept of rights (and duties) makes sense only within a set of laws or regulations defining them. There are no laws or regulations defining being human. (I am not talking about natural laws, such as the law of gravity.) Whether you have a right to privacy depends only on the laws and legal framework of the state in which you live or operate.
      bmeacham98@...
      • nonsense

        If you think that, you're a psychopath, unable to relate to your fellow
        man. Most people know what is OK and what isn't OK without resorting
        to a bunch of paper written by someone else.
        stevey_d
        • re: nonsense

          Actually, you have rights if your human is only a valid argument if morality comes into play. Once we discard religion and morality like you folks in the USA seem bent on doing, it really does just come down to a legal sense.

          Without the legal right to something, then you don't have it. Simple as that. Welcome to the hole you dug, GL getting out. =P
          Cyberjester
      • No natural rights?

        I'm fairly sure that the Constitution was written with natural rights in
        mind (freedom of religion, speech, assembly, etc.; freedom from
        unreasonable search and seizure), as many of the amendments therein
        have been written in a style that, instead of giving these rights, states
        that they cannot be infringed by law. The idea that they do this rather
        than explicitly "give" the rights implies that the people who drew up
        this document believed that these rights were natural rights, that these
        rights were not theirs to give or take away. (Also take a look at the
        Declaration of Independence for "endowed by their Creator with certain
        inalienable rights")

        I for one would argue that the Third (No Soldier shall, in time of peace
        be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in
        time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.) and Fourth (The
        right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and
        effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be
        violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause,
        supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place
        to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized) Amendments
        together pertain to privacy, even if the word "privacy" is not explicitly
        written (that said, how can one look at "the right... to be secure in
        (one's) persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable
        searches and seizures" and [i]not[/i] see at least an implicit right to
        privacy?).
        Third of Five
    • You Do have a right to privacy, BUT...

      You Do have a right to privacy. No one should be accessing the webcam on your laptop unless you authorize it. BUT!! Anything you post on a public network, LIKE FACEBOOK!!, is up for grabs. If you don't want everyone, including the police, to know where you're having a party try using a less public method of communication. Posting a party on facebook is tantamount to printing 1000 posters, climbing the tallest building on a windy day and throwing the posters in the air.
      Scubajrr
    • 14th Amendment anyone?

      Personally I think a 14th amendment to the Constitution is in order. Call it "The Right To Privacy". Unfortunately most politicians are in that line of work because they are power freaks, and information equates with power. Still, I think a majority of Americans are getting pretty fed up with the warrantless search for info on their private lives.

      Once the current federally sponsored hysteria about security abates, it may be opportune to go for such an amendment. This presupposes, of course, that the U.S. has not completed its transition to a police state. A "Right To Privacy" amendment would do a good bit to slow that transition.
      nikacat
      • 14th?

        There are 27 amendments to the US Constitution. The 14th addresses citizenship rights and requirements.
        Bill4
  • But people are...

    ...getting carried away with it. It's like we're happy with the spew we're being given, because of the X and Y reasons we're given to sway us round.
    zwhittaker
  • RE: Governments spy, corporations spy, even schools spy

    You have to understand the intent of the Bill of Rights to understand the provisions for privacy. Why did the anti-federalists put privacy in the Top 10 list? They knew that the ability to run guns and ammunition was essential for a revolution against tyranny. You can't have the government searching too closely for guns, you can't have them controlling the pulpit (1700-era CNN), and you can't station troops in houses (hard to get out to join the militia), and normal folks have to practice so they can be called up for militia service (no, our National guard isn't a militia, it's a "standing army" since it has known members).
    tburzio
  • There's a world of difference between...

    There's a world of difference between checking out someone's facebook page for pictures and comments about parties and remotely accessing a webcam on a computer in someone's home. On facebook the people post the pictures and comments themselves or are posted by others at the party. Not surveiled by police or others. As far as corporate monitoring of blackberry communications (I wrote about Research in Motion, the manufacturers of the BlackBerry devices, monitoring their own workforce in Orwellian style; emails, phone calls and text messages being documented.) If the corporation supplies the device and pays for the service it's their right. My company supplies me with a corporate laptop. When I decided to start job hunting, I used my home PC (not the corporate laptop & network) to post my resume, send emails and track prospects I posted my personal phone for contacts. The company owns the laptop, and provides the network, I have no expectation of privacy when using it.
    Scubajrr
    • What are you saying?

      quote " The company owns the laptop, and provides the network, I have no expectation of privacy when using it."

      If what I read is correct, the school "owns" the laptops, not the students. Therefore according to your reasoning the school is well within their rights to turn on the webcams and validate the locations of the laptops in question.

      Interesting...seems we will allow a "company" to invade our privacy, but not a "school".
      There were a multitude of methods that should have been employed, especially some notice to the student-users that the notebook webcams could and would be activated if there were a suspicion of criminal activity or theft of the equipment.
      <{;-)
      wizard57m-cnet
      • re: What are you saying?

        previous quote:


        " The company owns the laptop, and provides the network, I have no expectation of privacy when using it."

        You said:

        "If what I read is correct, the school "owns" the laptops, not the students. Therefore according to your reasoning the school is well within their rights to turn on the webcams and validate the locations of the laptops in question.

        Interesting...seems we will allow a "company" to invade our privacy, but not a "school".
        There were a multitude of methods that should have been employed, especially some notice to the student-users that the notebook webcams could and would be activated if there were a suspicion of criminal activity or theft of the equipment."


        Typically, when a company issues a mobile phone or computer to an employee, the company *requires* the employee to read a document that details what the issued equipment can and can not be used for, and also informs the employee that the use of the equipment may be monitored *by the company* at any time. In addition, the employee is informed that misuse of company-issued equipment may be grounds for dismissal. Again, typically, the employee is *required* to sign and date the document, which acknowledges that the employee has read and understood the company's policies. And, the employee thus has no expectation of privacy whenever using the company-issued equipment.

        This was *not* done by the school district in question. They did not, to my knowledge, inform either the students *or* their parents that the installed webcams might be activated at any time to ensure that the computers were being properly utilized. Nor did they say whether or not any sort of "spyware" (keyloggers, browser nannies, et cetera) were installed on those computers (I have no idea if they were or not) and that said monitoring software would periodically report back to the district.

        So, the students who were "spied upon" *did* have some expectation of privacy, at least until the computers in question were returned to the school at the end of the semester or school year. But *while they had those computers in their possession*, they had *every right* to expect privacy and non-interference by the school district.

        This is an EPIC FAIL for the school district, and it deserves whatever punishment, in the form of lost lawsuits and, with some luck, lost jobs for both hired and elected personnel, that it may receive.

        One would hope that other public (and private, for that matter) organizations which distribute similar equipment to their charges will take note and make *sure* that they've crossed all their i's and dotted all their t's.
        M.R. Kennedy
  • Ironic its the West

    that invented all the 1984 style surveillance technology,
    and put it to such use. And it's America, with just 2% of
    world population that has 25% of the worlds prisoners.
    HollywoodDog
  • You can't seriously be this thick? Or are you just a troll?

    First, 'secretly watching' (spying) is totally different from 'WATCHING' (overtly watching). It is sad that you can't see the difference.

    When I walk into the store I see the cameras. When I go to my daughers school I see the cameras. When my brother in law was issued a corporate phone he was told the browsing, emails, calls, etc . . . may at some time be read, viewed, inspected by the company. Anyone that thinks their employer can't view emails that are sent from the workplace is a fool. Any that think an employer can't track the web traffic on the company servers is a fool. By the very definition you posted, all that WATCHING is NOT spying.

    Overtly watching is totally different from spying (secretly watching).

    It is still illegal for your employer to secretly tap your home phone. It is still illegal for your school to tap your parents phone on the chance of catching a conversation you may have with your parents.

    It is too bad that you have difficulty seeing the difference between 'watching' and 'spying'.


    "The only issue here is that images could have been taken of minors, which even when done legitimately for whatever reason, can face shaky legal standing."

    Totally wrong.

    There is a huge difference between an employer looking at the email you send at work or your employer tracking the browsing you do while on the job or cameras watching the parking lot at the store or cameras watching the school yard vs. some government employee remotely activating your web camera (without a warrant) and watching what you do at home.
    John238
    • Speaking of trolls...

      If you were issued a school notebook that was equipped with a webcam, but was not informed that the webcam could be remotely activated by the issuer, I suppose you'd feel safe in using the notebook.

      And I'd bet you'd howl like a goosed moose if/when you discovered that someone secretly activated that webcam, without your knowledge, and recorded you doing naughty things. (Use your imagination.)

      Would you call that "spying" or "watching"? It makes little difference if you know the webcam is there. It makes *all* the difference if you do *not* know that some stranger was using it to "watch" you without your knowledge or permission.

      I think that's a pretty fair definition of "spying".

      Now, kindly find another bridge to hide under, 'kay?
      M.R. Kennedy
  • Same as it ever was

    If you feel you must discuss criminal matters, steal things or say something racist or enbarassing with the wrong person standing behind you, then you deserve what you get.

    Essentially if you are in a social situation, act like it. If you are going to do something potentially criminal or embarrassing then don't.

    Why should anyone object to being recorded going about their normal business?

    If you realise that all communication is capable of being intercepted and you can be recorded anywhere (look up for the satellite please) then you aren't the victim of spies, you're an exhibitionist.
    tonymcs@...
    • Just because you have the right to do something

      doesn't mean that it's right to do it. Corporations have the right to
      monitor you all the time, but having a camera on you at all times is
      unpleasant, it creates an atmosphere of mistrust.

      Also one ought to be able to get plastered one night, carry on an affair,
      whatever, without certainty of being recorded on video, or found out.

      It sounds to me as though you don't agree with the concept of privacy in
      general, not that it's abridgment is an unfortunate necessity in some
      circumstances.
      HollywoodDog
    • Not. The. Same. Thing.

      Did you read the same article I read?

      I don't think so.
      M.R. Kennedy
  • In regards to the Facebook issue

    I actually have nothing against that. Legally, you cannot be charged for something you haven't done. I know, there's conspiracy to x and all the rest, but cases like those require quite a lot of doing.

    If the Police see a party with underage people noted as "attending", they can't do anything. If they wait till the party is going then shut it down, then good for them. They're doing their job very efficiently. Who knows, they may have stopped a rape/fight/use your imagination. Alcohol is used as an excuse to do anything.

    I'm not anti-alcohol or anti-party by any means, Uni is a good incentive not to be. =P But the Police should be able to do what they will, and to hell with "privacy" if it helps keep everything under control.
    Cyberjester