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October 22, 2010

Update: Pennsylvania school settles webcam "spying" case

Some of you may remember this case from back in February, where a Pennsylvania school district was sued for spying on its students via webcam.

To refresh your memory, the school gave out laptops to its 2300 students, but neglected to tell them that the webcam in the laptop could be remotely activated by the school, supposedly only when the laptop was reported stolen or lost. A student was seen popping what appeared to be pills in his bedroom, and was suspended, even though it turned out to be Mike & Ikes candy.

According to the Education Tech news blog (and I'm sure reported elsewhere as well), the school district has settled the class-action lawsuit for $610,000.

That's $610,000 that's coming out of your pockets, those of you who live in the school district. Apparently, the insurance company won't cover it because the school district hired lawyers without consulting with it first, violating their policy.

Way to go! This just adds to the stupidity of the officials' actions.

I think the Education Tech blog does overstate the case a little bit, though.

"Protecting school-owned computer equipment just got trickier. Here’s why:" the blog starts, before the rest of the blog indicates how stupid this really was.

But I don't think this makes the protection of school property any trickier.

First, all it would take is a notice in the contract (or whatever the parents/students sign) indicating very prominently that something like this might happen. It should clearly declare the circumstances for when the webcam would be activated.

Secondly, and most importantly, they should make sure that this only happens when they're reported lost. I haven't seen anything in any article I've read (and yes, I may have missed it, so please point one out to me if you have one) that said this laptop was reported missing. It was sitting right there on the kid's desk, for Christ's sake!

So why was the webcam activated?

Whatever the case, I'm glad this invasion of privacy has been punished, and I'm just sad for the residents of the area who are footing the bill because of the incompetence of the school officials.

First, for this happening in the first place. But then to not check with the insurance company before hiring a lawyer?

Didn't somebody in the administration read the policy before acting?


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