Saturday, February 20, 2010

Spying, Skynet & Tape

For the past few weeks, I've been trying to set up a meeting with our very, very nice but very, very busy technology head honcho.

He called me back pretty speedy quick, though, after I sent him a little email that asked… "Are you spying on me?" and included a link to the latest unbelievable brouhaha brewing over there in Lower Merion School District in Ardmore, Pennysylvania.

A family there filed a lawsuit against school officials claiming administrators used the nifty little webcam on a school-issued laptop to spy on their 15-year-old son at home.

And now, according to news reports, the FBI has entered the fray and decided to take a little look-see into whether school officials violated wiretap and privacy laws.

According to the Philadelphia Inquirer article,  the lawsuit claims that an assistant principal confronted their son telling him he had "engaged in improper behavior" in his home and cited as evidence a photograph shot by the webcam embedded in his school-issued laptop computer. 

According to the lawsuit filed in federal court, According to the lawsuit filed in federal court, school officials could spy on kids indiscriminately by remotely activating the webcams on their school-issued Apple MacBooks without their knowledge.

Jeepers Creepers.  I'm not sure what "improper behavior" was going on, but setting that aside, my own vision of me in a full-home-karaoke-mode-going-on is enough to embarrass the Sam Hill out of me and and make me run to find the duct tape.

This webcam-spying thing also breeds a level of paranoia: What if Steve Jobs can take a gander out there at anybody at any time? Or the Russians? Or the Chinese? Or… Skynet? Or…

OK, OK, OK, so maybe just maybe I've watched one too many Terminators and Sarah Connor Chronicles.

Still, when our technology head honcho called, I had to ask:"Are you spying on me?"

But he was just as flabbergasted as me and everyone else across the country over this spying thing. 

“What part of that idea sounds even remotely OK?” he asked. “When someone said, ‘Hey, we can spy on little Susie or Johnny at home now…’ How does that even sound right? I bet the fallout on this is just beginning, and not just for schools either.”

And now that the FBI is investigating, he’s probably right.

All this spying stuff creeped out some of the kiddos on my newspaper staff who, instead of working on their stories, opted to search for some masking tape to cover the embedded webcams on their computers, you know, just in case.

1 comment:

Jenny said...

Yes, it feels like around my department we have nearly daily conversations about the ways in which technology is creating frighteningly Big Brother-like situations...for example, email discussions among teachers have been infiltrated by the administration. And this is technically permissible on several levels...our computers are provided by the school, as is the network and the email system. They OWN the information there, whether we send such emails during the school day or at home...

In so many ways, it has become impossible to anticipate the traps of technology, especially in the world of education.

By the way, I've enjoyed your blog for a long time and have added you as a link on my own blog! Thanks, and congrats on the accolades!