Think of just one thing you did in your bedroom yesterday that you wouldn’t want anyone else, except maybe your spouse, to see. Now imagine that you found out that your boss and all of your coworkers had the ability to see into your bedroom from the comfort of their own homes at any time, without your knowledge.
Let’s exactly what’s going on in a Philadelphia suburb, except the people being spied on are minors and the peeping toms are their educators. Has your head exploded yet?
High school student Blake Robbins and his parents have filed suit against the Lower Merion School District for violating a bevy of privacy laws, including the Electronic Communications Privacy Act and the Fourth Amendment. Blake was one of about 1,800 students to receive a laptop from the district. The webcam-equipped computers were paid for by state and federal grants and intended, naturally enough, to help students remain engaged with their coursework outside of the classroom.
According to the lawsuit, the district failed to tell parents that these laptops were also monitoring devices–that is, the school district has the ability to remotely activate the webcams at any time, taking a peek into the private homes of students. Imagine Blake’s shock when an assistant principal approached him and accused him of engaging in “improper behavior” the night before–in his own home.
One hates to imagine what that “improper behavior” might have consisted of, considering that the 15-year-old was in his bedroom and believed he was alone. Fortunately for him, his transgression was nothing more serious than eating candy–which the assistant principal believed were drugs. After all, Mike and Ikes ARE brightly colored and oblong.
Since Blake’s parents filed suit for violating their son’s privacy, the district has claimed that they only activated the cameras on laptops that were reported missing or stolen. They have kept mum, however, as to whether Blake’s computer had been reported lost and as to how many other students have been spied on by administrators.
According to Lillie Coney of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, there is absolutely no justification for putting monitoring equipment on any school-issued computer. That is a system that is ripe for abuse by not only by overzealous administrators like the assistant principal, but by predators. “If [the computer is] lost, believe me, they are going to hold the parents responsible for replacing it. If it’s stolen, they have insurance to replace it,” Coney said. “They’re not law enforcement. They are not in the business of conducting surveillance or investigative efforts beyond anything that happens within that school.”
Judging from the public outcry, Lower Merion parents tend to agree with Coney–which is no surprise. Even the strictest parent does not want their child’s school to act as Big Brother. Although it remains to be seen whether the court will find the district guilty of violating any federal laws, it seems clear that no one will argue too strongly for keeping the monitoring system in place.
Photo: America’s Right