20 February 2010

USA school district accessed webcams to record pupils at home

Lower Merion school district (Philadelphia, USA) is being investigated by the FBI following allegations that they remotely activated webcams on laptops the students had taken home. This enabled the school to capture images of the screen and laptop user and has lead to anger and distress in the schools students and parents.

Although the school district have claimed that the camera’s were only activated to locate missing laptops (42 times over a 14 month period), district spokesman Doug Young told the Washington Post that the documentation signed by students when they received the laptops did not make it clear the Webcams could be activated remotely.

As the Guardian reports “The ruse was revealed when Blake Robbins, a student at Harriton high school, was hauled into the assistant principal Lindy Matsko’s office, shown a photograph taken on the laptop in his home and disciplined for “improper behaviour”.

Concerns have been expressed regarding the invasion of privacy into peoples homes, particularly as students reported keeping the laptop open in their bedrooms.

In 2001, the U.S. Supreme Court reaffirmed the privacy of the home in a case that said police could not permeate a home with infrared lights to see if a suspect was using heat lamps to grow marijuana. Justice Antonin Scalia wrote that, technology or no, Supreme Court precedents “draw a firm line at the entrance to the house” .

A video report of this story can be found on Sky News.

It seems curious that the legal erosion of human rights to privacy has been increasingly evident since 9/11. Despite the fact that "terrorists" existed before that time (eg IRA) and yet our liberties were not curtailed as they have been in the last decade. And these, more local and present "terrorists" carried out more attacks on UK soil than any of the "terrorists" that the government refer to, so what has changed?

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