Boing Boing has been following the lawsuit Blake J. Robbins v. Lower Merion School District, a class action [pdf] brought by the parents of a boy who was secretly photographed in his home by a remotely enabled webcam in a laptop issued to him by a Pennsylvania school district. The school district has distributed about 1,800 laptops with remote-access webcams and spyware installed, though the extent of its peeping on students in their homes is not known.
AP reports the FBI is investigating the school district's webcam program, and district spokesman Doug Young suggests without claiming that Harriton High School student Blake J. Robbins' webcam was activated only because the laptop had been reported stolen -- in accordance with an established policy. The boy was charged with an undisclosed infraction based on an image the school picked up from his webcam. District superintendent Christopher W. McGinley, in an orotund statement, defends the program while canceling it. And just to make clear that we're still in high school, Master Robbins appears to have gotten in trouble when he was photographed eating Mike and Ikes.
Robbins' attorney says the reported-stolen claim is bogus. The Wiki page is the best place to follow the unfolding story.
I'm predisposed to think the plaintiffs have a strong case with regard to privacy, informed consent, and the other issues here, but mostly I am tarnaciously thunderstruck by McGinley's simple lack of judgment. I don't remember the Lower Merion kids of a generation ago as being balls of fire, so maybe they have become lawless enough to need constant surveillence these days. (Though I don't understand why a school would even want to be taking responsibility for kids at home, when teachers already bellyache about how hard it is to have responsibility for them during school hours.)
But the country is so crazed by child porn it's willing to prosecute children as child pornographers. McGinley's approval of the webcam program (which the district says was administered by two employees) is appallingly careless management. You could get your mom and dad, or your mom and your mom's boyfriend, or whoever the two people are you trust the most, and put them in charge of this program, but only after requiring them to convert to Mormonism and obtain Cheyenne Mountain security clearances, and I can guarantee you: There would be actionable jailbait images on your server by third period. I hope the FBI gets a good look.
Unrelated language moment: The suit contains repeat occurences of a typo -- indiscriminant, presumably for indiscriminate -- which, with its suggestion of the gerundive, strikes me as better than the correct word. I'm upgrading it from a typo to a neologism.
HT: PJ Manney