Lower Pervian School District vs. Mike and Ikes

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

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  • zoltan||

    Definitely the best candy.

  • zoltan||

    Mike & Ike's, that is, not young children.

  • ||

    Hard Candy is best.

  • BakedPenguin||

    The song they put that video to is Steven Smith. Rather apropos considering what the film was about.

  • ||

    that three minutes I'll never get back >:(

  • Cypherpunk||

    I've got two words for you: FUCK OFF.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Young Mr. Blake claims to be innocent because what the school administrator thought was drugs was actually Mike and Ikes, but I ask you, kind Reasoners, is the infraction of eating a sugary treat at home not as abhorrent? Should the lad still not be disciplined by a school struggling to keep its charges' weight under control?

    Instead of damning the school district for its policing of students' bedrooms, the parents should be praising them. They're helping parent your child, for Pete's sake!

  • ||

    The First Lady has a plan to address that. It seems to involve the state governors bullying the fat kids.

  • Almanian||

    But won't the bullying be countered by the anti-bullying programs in the schools? I think it all cancels out and the fat kids win.

    Which means the terrorists have won. Shit.

  • DethB4DCaf||

    No -- just the *fat* terrorists have won. I know it's just a technicality.... 0-:

  • ||

    OMG, there's the problem. Don't take responsibility for your own. Just let someone else do so. Grow up!

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Sarcasm. Yeah, that's real helpful.

  • ||

    Looks like somebody's sarcasmometer is due for a tune-up.

  • LyingCake||

    Sarcasmometer? I don't think that's a real thing...

  • Facepalm||

    And here we have a prime example of how things like remotely operable webcams on school issued laptops can occur in the first place.

  • kayana||

    sure,.

  • ||

    Another problem which can be solved with the right application of duct tape.

  • ||

    Or a wiping of windows off the laptop and a fresh installation of Linux, provided the government allows you to disable it's "authorized" operating system. Reminds me of China, where people can get in trouble for disabling the government approved "Green Dam" spyware/censorware.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    It's a Mac, and you know how those people are.

  • Burrow Owl||

    Ah, but the newer Mac's run a bastardized version of Linux.... for an enterprising young hacker, the possibilities are endless. ;)

  • ||

    No, macs run a bastardized version of BSD UNIX. Apple did not use Linux as it would have given more power to the user.

  • ||

    Absolutely Zoltan! It is not like we the parents have the time to watch what our kids do. I mean we are too busy saving the environment to watch what our kids eat.

    I applaud the school district for wanting to supervise our kids to the point of watching them surreptitiously through their web cams.

    Who know what else they may find. They might find that some of them are having sex without condoms! This way the school could make sure they have condoms for next time.

    They could even see them adding too much CO2 to the air and then they could punish them for how they are killing polar bears.

    Yes Lower Merion School District, please keep watching our kids as it is of vital importance to keep them on the right path. It is not like us parent can do that anymore is it?

    /sarcasm off

  • zoltan||

    I just said it was the best candy. So you agree, yes?

  • ||

    If this boy's parents had strangled a bureaucrat over this, then the prosecution would probably want to keep me off their jury. Just sayin'.

    -jcr

  • Michael S. Langston||

    & if more people strangled bureaucrats over this kind of crap, I would think the desire to make idiotic decisions would be minimized...

    Of course society seems to think the government will fix all, so taking things into our own hands isn't something that exists in the vast majority of the population these days.

  • ||

    Even short of strangling, I believe that the re-introduction of tar and feathers to American public life would have a wonderful effect on the responsiveness of local officials to citizens' concerns. You probably only need to apply the treatment to half a dozen bureaucrats per year to make the rest of them shape up.

    -jcr

  • Medic001||

    Don't forget the all American favorite...the stockade!

  • LibertyGal||

    No, no! Let me be on that jury!

  • ||

    The passive participle is the correct tense in this case. "Indiscriminant remote activation" would imply that the activation itself was failing to discriminate (ie, make a choice based on specific reasons), rather than that someone else was carrying out remote activations that were not chosen for specific reasons, which is the case here.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    The FBI will explore whether Lower Merion School District officials broke any federal wiretap or computer-intrusion laws, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to discuss the investigation.

    The anonymous official wasn't actually volunteering information about the investigation; the AP just remote-activated the mic on his office computer.

  • adam||

    ITS LOWER MERION SCHOOL DISTRICT!!!

  • Almanian||

    Kind of makes the Luddites seem a lot less silly

  • dfd||

    No it doesn't.

  • Almanian||

    Fair enough

  • ||

    I guess my question about the district's case is, who reported the laptop stolen? You would think that only the student himself (or possibly his parents) would be able to do that.

    Is it possible that the student reported it stolen in the hopes of getting another one? Or was he doing something naughty with it and wanted to avoid punishment, like the people who report their cars stolen after they hit and run?

  • ||

    Why would any of this matter?

  • Abdul||

    Remote activation of a laptop that's been lost or stolen seems reasonable. the rightful owner doesn't have to worry about his or her privacy, because the laptop isn't in his or her possession anymore.

    Activating a laptop while it's still in the custody of the person who owns it, without their knowledge, is a lot harder to defend.

  • Medic001||

    The twisted kitten question is now...will the children in the "embarrassing" pictures be charged for pornography?

  • ||

    Because if a scenario like the one I described had occurred, the school district's version of events becomes more plausible.

  • ||

    Regardless of how or why the camera became active, how in hell could you *ever* defend putting a remote-activated camera in any residence?
    Am I missing something?

  • ||

    They didn't put the camera in the residence. They gave the student a laptop that is publicly known to have a webcam in it, and the student brought it to his residence.

  • ||

    Uh, did they expect him to use it in, oh, a public park?
    I would agree with the kid if he said "keep it", but shy of that, it was going to go in a home.
    Again, am I missing something?

  • LibertyGal||

    So what? Same result.

  • robc||

    Actually, my understanding is that it wasnt known to have a webcam in it.

  • Facepalm||

    If the student knew it had a webcam that school officials could activate whenever they wanted you can bet he'd have disabled it or covered it the first time he turned the machine on.

  • ||

    It may not have been drugs this time, but obesity in teens is no laughing matter either!

    And home is where these kids eat, you know?

    I mean, for Christ's sake, if we don't sneak a peak every once in a while, how the hell else are we supposed to keep track of what they're eating?!

    Besides, we were looking for drugs. ...I swear to God they looked like pills to me. : (

  • ||

    I'd give them a show to remember. I'm just sayin' if they're watchin' I'd be showin'

    Hell it would have been hilarious to stage some freak show with furries, fake animal sacrifice, alien abduction, fake abuse, or even just a good old PG rated porno for the school administration. Th.en sit back and wait for the foot in mouth

  • Medic001||

    Something tells me the students would have if they hadn't 'shut' the system down.

  • ||

    The fact that this didn't happen is all the evidence you need that the school district didn't inform the kids of the presence of the webcam nor of the fact that it could be remotely activated.

  • ||

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    A libertarian from Texas who has railed against spending and the Federal Reserve, Paul won the Saturday contest at the Conservative Political Action Conference with 31 percent backing. He has sought the presidential nomination in the past and attracted a following among a segment of voters frustrated with Washington.
  • zoltan||

    So awesome. At the end of the article it says "Fewer than a quarter of the 10,000 attendees participated in the balloting, an unscientific sampling that only offers bragging rights."

    Douchebags

  • ||

    Of course, that didn't stop the Fox News minions from repeating several times that Romney had won that straw poll for the previous three years. The difference being of course, that Ron Paul didn't pay anyone to vote for him.

    -jcr

  • Warty||

    Quick, someone make a joke about Fisher discriminants. I'm too tired to be that nerdy.

  • BakedPenguin||

    You're not too tired. You're just too much of a linear thinker.

  • ||

    I am tarnaciously thunderstruck by McGinley's simple lack of judgment

    You'd think, but considering we've seen stuff like strip-searching a teenage girl in an attempt to find 600mg ibuprofen pills, I have a feeling that lax judgment is very common amongst the public school bureaucrat cohort.

  • ||

    lax would imply some level of judgment. I think that's giving a little too much credit.

  • They used to be wiser, hence:||

    Ex-lax judgment.

  • Almanian||

    So now we need to stripsearch teenagers for ExLax in addition to the Ibuprofen?

    *sound of non-latex glove snapping against wrist*

  • Medic001||

    ::shudder:: What about tampons? That's obviously violating some school rule some where.

  • ||

    Hmmm, does the FDA regulate tampons?

    DRUGS!!111! Search all their under aged cooters!!!

  • LibertyGal||

    That made me LOL.

  • ||

    Rephrase:

    I have a feeling that bonecrushing stupidity is very common amongst the public school bureaucrat cohort.

  • EscapedWestOfTheBigMuddy||

    If you find one that doesn't suffer from that malady you could but him/her/it in the zoo.

    ::thinks::

    Unless that particular specimen is sentient. I guess well have to give him/her/it a cable TV show, just to guard against immoral behavior.

  • BakedPenguin||

    Didn't you go to public schools? I get the feeling that most of the people who comment here - and went to public schools - had the sad revelation fairly early on in life that they were smarter than their teachers and administrators.

    For me, it was 4th or 5th grade.

  • Slut Bunwalla||

    I went to private school, so I didn't have this revelation until college.

  • Joshua||

    I got suspicious in 1st grade, but I figured they were just acting dumb as a pedagogical tool.

    It's actually one of the reasons I'm afraid to have children - the inevitability of stupid teachers.

  • ||

    Just don't have kids till you've saved up for private school?

  • Will||

    "Cheyenne Mountain security clearances"

    HAH!

    I guess a quick fix would be to put non-transparent duct-tape over the webcam.

  • ||

    Or take the computer to the local Elks lodge steam room and leave it open with the camera on.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    There are types of tape other than duct, people.

  • ||

    No. There are other adhesive backed plastic and paper strips. There is one tape, and thy name is duct tape.

  • ||

    Those of us in the lifestyle know the correct term is "duck" tape.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    MacGyver wouldn't even waste duct tape for this job.

  • Facepalm||

    One well-placed booger = problem solved.

  • ||

    The mistress of fixin shit goes by many names.

    Gaff tape
    100 mph tape
    200 mph tape
    1k mph tape
    Minnesota chrome
    Redneck crhome
    Wisconsin pewter
    Missile tape
    Jesus tape
    First aid on a roll

  • ||

    Gaffer's tape is not the same as duct tape. Once you've used gaffer's tape, you won't want to settle for duct tape.

    -jcr

  • ||

    Gaffer's tape is like 4x more expensive.

  • ||

    Short history:
    Used to be called "carpet tape"; many colors, many adhesives.
    Adhesives got better, came in silver, heating guys used it.
    Adhesives got so good, gaffers could tie "gaff" together with it.
    Now it's a matter of brand. But I can tell you that blue 3M will live fine at 185MPH.

  • ||

    I heard that it was first used in WW2 to repair damaged ammo containers and the like, and the "duck" appelation referred to its waterproof quality.

  • ||

    I ain't that old.

  • ||

    Why a Duct?

  • ||

    Why a Duct?

  • ||

    We Romans used it to repair our water works.

  • ||

    It was duck tape, because it was made with canvas duck http://www.wisegeek.com/what-is-canvas-duck.htm
    Gaff is a verb. Gaffers gaff cables to the floor.
    Gaffer's tape is a superior way of life, among other things, you can peel up and reuse it in a crisis. It's also paintable. I've used it to hold together platforms supporting 300 pound actors and to temporarily build projection lenses.

    The folk art media Duct tape is handy for many things. Oddly enough, the one thing it is not the best choice for is taping ventilation ducts. Insulated foam tapes are better.

  • ||

    You get what you pay for.

    -jcr

  • ||

    Gaffer tape is not the same thing as duck tape.

  • ||

    If it sticks like a duct, looks like a duct, and quacks like a duct. It's a duct.

  • ||

    hahahaha

  • Mr. FIFY||

    Duct tape and WD-40 are the only tools one needs:

    If it moves and it shouldn't, use the duct tape.

    If it doesn't move and it should, use the WD-40.

  • Colonel_Angus||

    You forgot vise grips. Also, duct tape sucks for ducts.

  • Comrade Zero||

    Someone call Red Green to settle this

  • EscapedWestOfTheBigMuddy||

    We put the laptop in the wrong lodge for that.

  • Ted S.||

    Red Green: proof that Canada commits crimes against humanity.

  • Amy Zup||

    Everyone thinks this kid is a perfect little innocent kid who got "invaded" but he was a drug dealer! he was not eating mike & ikes. everyone stop being naive.

  • deja moo||

    Even if he's a big time drug dealer, it's still wrong. NO SEARCH WARRANT!

  • Medic001||

    Drug dealer, who are you kidding 75% of illicit drugs taken by teens comes form Mom and Pops med cabinet. Codeine is the highest abused prescription drugs out there.

    No you're right, he was probably selling his mom's Valium on Craigs list.

  • ||

    Uh Oh. Using cragslist on the provided laptops was against the terms of service.....

  • Pedobear||

    I can guarantee you: there would be actionable jailbait images on your server by third period.

    Pics or it didn't happen.

  • Merion School District Mom||

    Dang. No more housekeeping in the nude.

  • ||

    Or more housekeeping in the nude.

  • Merion School District Mom||

    Hmm, it could get me elected PTA president.

  • ||

    Or a loyal following of amateur porn freaks.

  • ||

    Could be a great way to fund the schools, and ease the burden on the taxpayers.

    -jcr

  • ||

    ...and ease the burden on the taxpayers.

    Intended or unintended, great euphemism on context of the previous posts.

  • Bill Clinton||

    I'd like to see that!

  • Colonel_Angus||

    No more banking naked.

  • Saregos||

    One letter away from seriously upsetting your spouse.

  • Evil Libertarian||

    What help would it be to activate the web cam if the laptop were stolen. The only situation I can think of that would be helpful would be if the kid or his parents reported it stolen and the district could prove they were still using it. Am I missing something here?

  • Abdul||

    If you recognize the face of the user, you either know the thief or the person who recieved the stolen property.

  • Evil Libertarian||

    If all the kids have computers, they're not going to steal one to keep it. So it's likely to be a non-student who takes or receives it. Are the cops going to put out an APB with the photo to find a Mac.

  • peter||

    Great, I'd like to see that!

    Peter

  • Colonel_Angus||

    You can also analyze the background for clues of the location.

  • ||

    If a student was caught naked by the spycam, are the superintendent and principal guilty of producing child pornography?

  • ||

    Of coarse not. They are the "Authority". The authority is always above the law. Think cops and speeding. [They have to do bad things to keep us innocent] (We need a bracket to indicate sarcasm.)

  • ||

    It'd be the {} ones, but with tongues sticking out below the midpoints.

  • Chris||

  • ||

    No more guilty that the TSA is guilty of child porn for the images they want to take of every airline passenger going through the new scanners

  • ||

    1) I'm pretty sure that the spycam images would be covered under the technical definition of child porn.

    2) TSA scanners produce outline images, not full fleshy color shots.

    3) The superintendent and principal are not covered under law-enforcement exceptions for possession of child porn.

    4) If you found a computer with child porn on it, would you report it? I wouldn't, because I'd be breaking the law by merely possessing it, and as far as I know there is no exception for the reporting party. Further, I have no confidence the DA I reported it to wouldn't prosecute me for possession notwithstanding the fact I reported it, merely to pad their stats and be able to claim they're taken yet another pornographer off the streets.

  • ||

    1) ANY images of children in explicit content is child pr0n.
    2) TSA scanners aren't just outlines... go look at the uncensored ones, and you'll see outlines... of GENITALIA!
    3) They may not be exempt, but they'll get a pass. "I was only doing my duty" or "I wasn't aware" or somesuch legal nonsense. What of the IT guys that installed and monitored it all constantly?
    4) If I found one, I'd delete it immediately. Format the drives, destory any data disks with it on there. That stuff is like kryptonite to Superman. Encase it in lead and bury it before it really hurts you.

  • ||

    Bob Smith said: "If you found a computer with child porn on it, would you report it?"
    Perhaps not, for the reasons you state, but I'd sure remove the hard drive and send it to the authorities with a note, anonymously of course.

  • ||

    Mike and Ike are a gateway to Hot Tamales

  • ||

    95.6% of candy-pill junkies also take up candy-cigarettes. It's a double whammy. Well, triple when you consider the candy-cigs are all made on the black market nowadays.

  • ||

    Dude, Mike & Ike is da bomb! I mean like WOW.

    Jess
    www.anonymous-tools.se.tc

  • ||

    Interesting tidbit:
    Kobe Bryant went to Lower Merion.

  • just thinking||

    Wouldn't it be crazy he made a donation that paid for the computers? Would it mean that he needs to buy the wife a new gift?

  • ||

    ah, but Kobe went to Lower Merion high school. This happened at Harriton high, which is in the same district but different school.

  • anarch||

    Where's SF when you need him?

  • didn't ya know||

    He's in the Borg regeneration chamber

  • Me||

    I'd want to call for some immediate Zero Tolerance action here - or Zero Tolerance exists only for pupils?

  • Robert||

    When I heard on the radio that what was seen was thought to be improper behavior, I was sure it had to be something sexual to be couched that way. Of course "something sexual" could've been simple masturbation, or household members in view of each other with genitals or tushies visible.

    I'm figuring that some female school administrators out there don't realize that boys commonly masturbate, and that by the time someone explained that to them it'd be too late, that they'd have to defend their accusation by fuzzing its language because the truth of their ignorance would be too embarrassing.

  • Michael||

    I remember a time that I wished I had school-issued computers when I was still in my teens. That time was about five minutes ago.

  • Garyg||

    The photo says it all: Mike and Ikes have way too many red pieces. Otherwise a great candy.

  • Scott||

    WTF does "tarnaciously" mean? If you mean "damned", don't make a up word.

  • Bill||

    "I guess a quick fix would be to put non-transparent duct-tape over the webcam."

    They are school kids - why not just a piece of chewing gum? Or a chewed Mike and Ike?

  • Zak||

    Wow, you're upgrading a word? You can DO that? That must be really special, having the unilateral authority to "promote" words in the English language.

    Play with language. Tweak it. Grow and change it with creative use. But don't be so presumptuous as to think that a grammatical error has ACTUALLY become a real word just because you said so.

  • ||

    Lower Merion School District!!!

    What a school district! I am sure your kid learn a lot with these pack of pederasts trying to spy on your kid's bed room!

  • ||

    The real questions become
    1) How fast does that school district scrub it's servers before lawyers request to see data files?
    2) How culpable are the IT/School Heads for child pr0n found with this program? Obviously, it wasn't a case of one single image snap-shot that "caught" this kid eating "Mike & Ikes". I'm sure Betty, the 15 year old had her laptop "stolen" every night just before bed time...
    3) Why does the super's letter states that at no time was it activated... yet here it is, with evidence it was? I smell shenanigans.

  • eVade||

    I'm far from a language smith Tim, but "indiscriminant" isn't a neologism. I had that word and many others beat out of me by my English 101 prof many moons ago. That's just the way they talk and often write in the Delaware Valley.

  • ||

    Like I've mentioned elsewhere, the authorities should be looking at the server logs to see just how much the children were being spied on.
    What if a school employed perv has been looking at all the kiddies in their skivvies?

  • ECP||

    School Webcam Spy
    http://www.edu-cyberpg.com/Tec.....m-Spy.html

    Explains the what your privacy rights actually are and the issues regarding the difference between security software and spying software.

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