Philadelphia school uses laptops to spy on children at home

posted at 9:30 am on February 23, 2010 by MadisonConservative

In a time when teachers are getting nailed left and right for sleeping with students, you know what would be a really good idea? Sending high school students home with laptops that, at any moment, can activate a camera and watch them at home.

Blake Robbins and his 18-year-old sister both attend Harriton High School and were among the 2,300 students in the district to receive the Apple laptops. All students and their parents had to sign a “memorandum of understanding” to take the laptops home with wording that explained the rules and regulations that came along with the computers. The paperwork did not include the disclosure that the school district had the ability to remotely activate the embedded webcams at any time, without student’s permission.

Last November, Blake Robbins was called to the office by the vice principal to talk about what she called his “improper behavior” at home. Vice Principal Lindy Matsko allegedly cited as evidence a photograph taken with the computer’s webcam that had been activated in Blake’s bedroom. Robbins claims that the Matsko accused him of selling drugs when she saw him holding up what she believed to be pills. The 15-year-old says he was simply holding his favorite candy, “Mike And Ikes,” which are small oblong, chewy jelly beans.

Tsk tsk. When are you foolish people going to learn that you are not the primary guardian of your children? You’re hardly as qualified as tenured NEA members. Don’t you know it takes a village?

This poor kid is being harassed and accused of criminal activity, but we all know situations that potentially could be far worse. Suppose cameras were turned on when students were getting dressed, or were just out of the shower. Suppose they were on when students were doing one of the many activities that becomes common during puberty. Lately, it’s become clear that some teachers are exploring “perks” of their profession. Hell, we’re lucky if we can undo the more and more common brainwashing being used on kids when they get home.

So which scares you more about your children and technology? To Catch A Predator, or this? Frankly…I’m torn.

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Leet me clarify. By lose their shirt I mean lose their power. or swome power. Suing for money is as stupid as schools billing Medicaid for spec ed services.

ORconservative on February 23, 2010 at 10:31 AM

Maybe writing 500 times on a blackboard “I will not violate people’s right to privacy” or a 1500 word essy entitled “How I spent my Winter Break–in Court”

DrAllecon on February 23, 2010 at 10:51 AM

Had it been by children the VP would still be running for her life.

chemman on February 23, 2010 at 10:52 AM

Yes, law enforcement is able to turn your microphone on at any time on the new phones that are coming out. The difference between the police and the school doing it, is that the police are required to get a warrant of some kind.

txaggie on February 23, 2010 at 9:54 AM

But, apparently, they do not need a warrant to use the phone’s GPS to track you. This is being done all the time.

Phil-351 on February 23, 2010 at 10:53 AM

What was the purpose of those cameras in the first place? I can’t think of a single reason that a student would need to have a camera on a school-issued laptop. Perhaps it is just part of the design (the reason why I have a camera on my laptop and cell phone) but somebody had to set them up for remote access.

That being said, individuals should be fired or disciplined but I am against any idea of a huge payout just because some kid was holding up a couple candies and so should every taxpayer in that district who would have to fund the payout. Is what happened really so terrible to warrant bankrupting a school district? I’m not in favor of what this district did but was it illegal or just reprehensible?

My prediction, nobody gets fired because of union involvement in the process.

highhopes on February 23, 2010 at 10:54 AM

My prediction, nobody gets fired because of union involvement in the process.

highhopes on February 23, 2010 at 10:54 AM

Sadly I have to agree. The worst discipline I see out of this is that any sacrificial lambs will simply be transferred to another district.

Liam on February 23, 2010 at 10:57 AM

Gives a whole new meaning to the title Vice Principal.

alice on February 23, 2010 at 10:59 AM

Sometimes I wish things like this would’ve happened to me when I was in school. I’d love to be at the cash end of a lawsuit.

jimmy the notable on February 23, 2010 at 11:02 AM

Must-reads on Web-cam spy case: http://tiny.cc/xvOIm
and http://tiny.cc/nSs1v ;The big fat footprint of Mike Perbix.

They’ve been snapping shots of the kids for some time.

SarahW on February 23, 2010 at 9:38 AM

Good call. FYI, I mentioned your link in my GR comment.

The malware hacking angle scares me. We just wiped Windows off my new netbook and installed Ubuntu again. I assume it’s perfectly safe…but I did have some insane dreams about this last night! Creepiness.

Diane on February 23, 2010 at 11:09 AM

Lately, it’s become clear that some teachers are exploring “perks” of their profession.

Such as being retained on the payroll ad inifinitum while being considered for termination. Tenure: lifetime employment for the venal and incompetent.

ya2daup on February 23, 2010 at 11:20 AM

Ammonium nitrate

Sonosam on February 23, 2010 at 11:26 AM

Sometimes I wish things like this would’ve happened to me when I was in school. I’d love to be at the cash end of a lawsuit.

jimmy the notable on February 23, 2010 at 11:02 AM

Your desire to be wronged for the sake of money is another sign that awards have grown too large. The civil judiciary is not intended as an instrument of rapacity in the service of greed. It maintains peace by showing plaintiffs and the public that justice has been done.

Kralizec on February 23, 2010 at 11:27 AM

Kralizec on February 23, 2010 at 11:27 AM

I agree, rewards are too large, but they are what they are. A large settlement would be a great example to set for other school districts not to try this crap.

jimmy the notable on February 23, 2010 at 11:41 AM

Well c’mon; yes it was wrong to spy… but the kid was eating Mike & Ikes.

http://techdirt.com/articles/20100221/2118128243.shtml

There’s no call for that sort of behavior even in the privacy of your own home. I have no sympathy for a kid engaging in that sort of activity.

gekkobear on February 23, 2010 at 11:43 AM

There needs to be some criminal prosecutions in this matter.

A lot of them.

Dave R. on February 23, 2010 at 11:48 AM

Young Mr. Robbins is fortunate it was just his jellybeans he was fingering.

Kralizec on February 23, 2010 at 11:49 AM

To use the idea that “it takes a village” is to ignore that were that principle true, it doesn’t imply that it takes the town know-it-alls–and definitely not that it takes know-it-alls thousands of miles away from restraining the actual village from doing it wrong.

That’s the massive equivocation that Hillary engaged in. I’ve never had much actual problem with the more reasonable “It takes a village” metaphor. There once was a time when people in the community took the initiative to discipline your child if you wouldn’t. Communities–and not know-it-alls in Washington–provided for schools to enrich a child’s view of the world–and plenty of parents opted to send their kid to that one-room schoolhouse that the village had provided.

There is a certain confidence in the community and the traditional wisdom of people forming communities with a reading closer to the actual words. The reality of this “village” metaphor is to prop up a centrally-located know-it-all center whose main goal is to restrain the ways in which your community can interact with the child.

The community did not appoint the school board to spy on their children. It ain’t got nothin’ to do with villages, it’s got more to do with the methodology of know-it-alls of the expert/judge class. I mean, villages–that’s where all those inbred people come from.

Axeman on February 23, 2010 at 11:49 AM

One more legal felony.

At such point the school calls out candy as being a pill, discussing it in any way is a federal violation of Health Info Privacy act.

Punish the school.
Use the winnings to go to a private school.

seven on February 23, 2010 at 11:51 AM

Go into the Windows Device Manager and disable it. Just as effective. Even more effective if you disable it before drivers can be installed after a fresh install of the operating system.

MadisonConservative on February 23, 2010 at 9:57 AM

You can do this on your own personal computer but not typically on a school-owned computer because you will not have administrative privileges assigned to your school computer. Student’s are usually not allowed, or able, to add or remove programs, disable functions, or even visit sites the school blocks. One can certainly not re-install an operating system or anything like that.

I work at a school which also has a lap top program. The students are not “given” computers to have as their own, they are loaned computers. The computers belong to the school, just like a textbook, sports equipment, or library book would be and the student would be responsible for their mis-use, loss, damage, etc. Just like for a text or any other piece of school equipment.

At our school, e-mail is monitored, and sites such as Facebook and MySpace are blocked directly on the computers. So even if they take their computer home to work, a student can not use it to access blocked sites. Some still try and I get them here in the in school suspension room from time to time when they get caught. Most of the kids who have the skills to get around the block have their own computers anyway and it is easier to go on Facebook on their own computer and not do a work around for it on the school’s. The e-mail is monitored because the students often use it to bully each other. They all know ahead of time that their e-mail and web site history will be monitored and that they will be expected to use their computer responsibly. Our staff does not actually read student email, but it is on the servers and if a complaint is made, they can pull it up and check it. We have had a student expelled for email bullying.
That said, this kind of invasion of privacy is unconscionable. I cannot imagine what they were thinking. The idea that a school would spy on a student at home and then not expect any response from parent’s is amazing to me.

Lily on February 23, 2010 at 11:51 AM

Piece of tape will remedy this in the short term.

BoomJunkie on February 23, 2010 at 11:53 AM

Just a little duct tape on the lense. A Hi tech solution.

seven on February 23, 2010 at 11:53 AM

There’s only one person who can and will protect your children..you.

Speakup on February 23, 2010 at 12:02 PM

I’ll be interested in seeing the evidence and process the school has that they received a report the computer was stolen. Same with the legal guidance and instruction the District provided them in the use of the system. Lastly, I hoping the records can be retrieved on just how often they used the system they installed as my guess is tracks will show they used it much more often than they profess.

Dusty on February 23, 2010 at 12:08 PM

Big brother is watching.

Johan Klaus on February 23, 2010 at 12:24 PM

What idiot at the school thought that spying on the kids was a good idea? Does anyone in the school system have any commons sense?

The principal should be immediately terminated. And keep the damn laptops at school.

roux on February 23, 2010 at 12:31 PM

Ineptitude rivaled only by acorn and the big guy!

Gos to the old addage that nothing comes without a price

they say they activated the cam to locate the pc, I guess someone gets paid OT to peruse for hours until they recognize someone

of course they could have just billed the student and his family but that isn’t intrusive enough

Sidenote

how come there aren’t any articles on CITI sending out notifications that customers may not have access to their money?

Just sayin

Sonosam on February 23, 2010 at 12:32 PM

We need to close all public schools and give all kids vouchers and let their parents select the best school for each kid. It is the only way to block the stranglehold that the teacher’s liberal union monopoly has on our kids. It is obvious they don’t have good judgment.

karenhasfreedom on February 23, 2010 at 12:37 PM

BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU um ah er I MENT US !!!

KATDADDY on February 23, 2010 at 12:38 PM

So which scares you more about your children and technology? To Catch A Predator, or this? Frankly…I’m torn

The teachers ARE the predators, now.

Virus-X on February 23, 2010 at 12:50 PM

The most amusing irony I see here is the fact that these are Apple (and therefore Mac) laptops.

Y’know, ’cause the argument I hear from a lot of Mac users is that Microsoft is so intrusive, doesn’t respect privacy, eats babies, etc. etc.

Cylor on February 23, 2010 at 9:43 AM

There’s a reason why the Left loves Apple so much – and this is it.

steveegg on February 23, 2010 at 9:49 AM

Hope you didn’t strain any muscles on that stretch.

That’s like suing gun manufacturers because someone used a gun to kill somebody. Put the responsibility where it belongs.

I do find it ironic that it’s Apple, though more because of the famous “1984″ Apple Macintosh commercial.

tom on February 23, 2010 at 12:53 PM

The idea that a school would spy on a student at home and then not expect any response from parent’s is amazing to me.

Lily on February 23, 2010 at 11:51 AM

From Wikipedia,

The median income for a household in the township was $86,373 and the median income for a family was $115,694 (these figures had risen to $114,608 and $148,123 respectively as of a 2007 estimate[3]).

These are not the typical blue collar working families, with median income in the six figures. From my understanding these are the rich, (typically) white, uber liberal communities dotting around the greater Philadelphia area. They pay extra property tax for their school system, and are darn proud of it.

Sir Napsalot on February 23, 2010 at 12:59 PM

Is this worse than say,

If a teacher or administrator for the school helped procure an abortion for your daughter?

Just curious

Sonosam on February 23, 2010 at 1:14 PM

What scares me the most is that upon viewing the image of this kid with his so-called “bag of drugs,” they hauled him into an office to confront him, as if they had no inkling whatsoever of the controversy which would be ignited. In their minds, spying on kids in their own rooms is perfectly normal and they had no reason to believe that anyone would have a problem with it. That’s your fascist big brother mentality right there. These people are as dangerous as hell.

Sharke on February 23, 2010 at 1:14 PM

as if they had no inkling whatsoever of the controversy which would be ignited. In their minds, spying on kids in their own rooms is perfectly normal and they had no reason to believe that anyone would have a problem with it. That’s your fascist big brother mentality right there. These people are as dangerous as hell.

Sharke on February 23, 2010 at 1:14 PM

Correct, but I’m not sure which scenario is correct, and makes them so, so dangerous. Are they so clueless that they are dangerous. Or are they dangerous because they believe that the laws that govern us do not apply to them.

Either way, some serious changes are way overdue. Time to take our lives, our schools and our country back from the liberal mindset.

Yoop on February 23, 2010 at 1:33 PM

Forget this little camera stuff…..What we really need is:

GPS Data chips implanted in everyone to:

Monitor their health

Protect children from turning up missing

Monitor carbon emissions

And then in the updated GPS Chip 2.0 maybe we could:

Provide ‘stimulus’ for correcting unhealthy foods

Track children globally at all times possibly providing a ‘stimulus’ that would prevent a child from being taken say 200 miles from their home without resetting the chip.

Provide ‘stimulus’ for excess carbon emissions (above monthly allowance purchased from U.S. Carbon Regulatory Agency (USCRA).

How’s that for thinking globally and acting locally (cameras monitoring kids?…..that’s child’s play).

PappyD61 on February 23, 2010 at 1:45 PM

The school intruded on a family’s privacy and when they suspected that they kid was doing drugs, they didn’t tell the parents, they didn’t tell the police, but they decided to take care of it themselves.
My daughters spent a few years of their lives in Soviet Orphanages. They made every decision for them. I disliked the way our schools try to do the same thing. That is why I homeschooled.

TwilightAuthor on February 23, 2010 at 1:52 PM

Everytime I hear these stories, they affirm the path we’ve chosen. I am so thankful to be educating from the home.

PrincipledPilgrim on February 23, 2010 at 1:55 PM

Piece of tape will remedy this in the short term.

BoomJunkie on February 23, 2010 at 11:53 AM

Some of the pictures I saw after the fact have tape covering the camera. But, if your not aware that they may monitor you, it may not come to mind. Also, some of these cameras are hard to spot, and you may not even realize the laptop has one.

But, it seems like the district NEVER let the parents of students know they could and would monitor the cameras of the laptops. It is not an innocent mistake. There must be software and IT set-up to be able to access these cameras in that manner, especially without alerting the user.

I wish I could hit the lottery like this family just did. I see a major settlement in the near future.

Phil-351 on February 23, 2010 at 2:04 PM

Re: Macs OS vs. Windows OS (because the actual hardware does nothing until an operatin system is installed) –
Remote access is enabled by default in every Windows install and can be activated transparently by any user who has Administrator access. The majority of pedestrian users log in to the main account which has Administrator level permissions so that they can install programs and change settings which also allows easy access those the same functions from outsiders without any warning.
Mac OS X requires explicit permission and a password in order to do just about anything that involves root (administrative) access and remote operation is disabled by default. If the teachers handing out the computers have enabled this function then they can pretty much monitor all activity and control the mic and webcam.

The teachers are solely responsible for this, not Apple.

racecar05 on February 23, 2010 at 2:06 PM

The teachers are solely responsible for this, not Apple.

racecar05 on February 23, 2010 at 2:06 PM

I would say the administrators are responsible. If, in addition, some IT people went rogue, then the admins weren’t paying close enought attention.

Career changes are indicated.

Yoop on February 23, 2010 at 2:22 PM

I live about a 1/4 mile from the “victim”. Word around here is that he stole the laptop…only two admin types have access to the cameras, and are activated when they are missing. The school district has lap tops for all the kids (2300 of them!) so they get stolen/lost pretty frequently.

I had talked to a teacher, who knew another teacher who had taught the kid. Apparently he’s a real smacked ass, and the parents are off base too.

Think about it. Your kid gets “spied” on in October, and you never contact the school district until LAST WEEK?

That’s not normal.

hippie_chucker on February 23, 2010 at 2:28 PM

Punish the school.
Use the winnings to go to a private school.

seven on February 23, 2010 at 11:51 AM

4 years worth of private tuition sounds right.

It would also give them an excuse to let the whole group of HS teachers go also.

Some of them might not be able to work there anyway if they find any video of unclad freshmen.

OBQuiet on February 23, 2010 at 2:28 PM

The students need to search the web for instructions on how to get into “Single-User Mode” in order to change the root password on their Mac. Once they do that, they will have Administrator access (User Name “root”, and then whatever password they set), and can use that access to turn off the web cam.

Greg Q on February 23, 2010 at 2:46 PM

I’d have to wait for more details to come out before passing judgement. If the school had only informed the kids and their parents of this ability (apparently they hadn’t), this could all have been avoided.

I’m not sure why public schools are handing out laptops anyway. Couldn’t they focus on stuff like textbooks or something instead?

Meanwhile, I agree. A piece of tape over the camera will make all the student’s feel better.

Rightwingguy on February 23, 2010 at 2:56 PM

You can do this on your own personal computer but not typically on a school-owned computer because

Lily on February 23, 2010 at 11:51 AM

Me think the operative words in all this is “school-owned computer”.

(Or, this will be the schools defense)

Why would the rules/expectations of privacy be different for “school-owned computer” vice “company owned computers”?

As it is hammered into everyone’s head at work you have NO expectation of privacy on a “company owned computer”.

DSchoen on February 23, 2010 at 3:49 PM

I live about a 1/4 mile from the “victim”. Word around here is that he stole the laptop…only two admin types have access to the cameras, and are activated when they are missing. The school district has lap tops for all the kids (2300 of them!) so they get stolen/lost pretty frequently.

I had talked to a teacher, who knew another teacher who had taught the kid. Apparently he’s a real smacked ass, and the parents are off base too.

Think about it. Your kid gets “spied” on in October, and you never contact the school district until LAST WEEK?

That’s not normal.

hippie_chucker on February 23, 2010 at 2:28 PM

Got proof, is or all this hearsay?

MadisonConservative on February 23, 2010 at 3:52 PM

I work with public education administrators, and from experience I can tell you that I’ve never worked with or known a more arrogant group of people. Most of them have no real knowledge of the world or any of its disciplines outside of public education and lack any kind of curiosity. They are dullards with advance degrees. If they are not arrogant, they are usually friendly dunces that had no business teaching, so they landed an administrative job.

I know of one case in which a teacher molested a young lady, so to hush the entire incident the school board gave the perpetrator a job in the administration.

Ampleforth on February 23, 2010 at 3:55 PM

Last November, Blake Robbins was called to the office by the vice principal to talk about what she called his “improper behavior” at home. Vice Principal Lindy Matsko allegedly cited as evidence a photograph taken with the computer’s webcam that had been activated in Blake’s bedroom. Robbins claims that the Matsko accused him of selling drugs when she saw him holding up what she believed to be pills. The 15-year-old says he was simply holding his favorite candy, “Mike And Ikes,” which are small oblong, chewy jelly beans.

Epic Fail. Yet another reason to homeschool.

Aronne on February 23, 2010 at 4:32 PM

As it is hammered into everyone’s head at work you have NO expectation of privacy on a “company owned computer”.

DSchoen on February 23, 2010 at 3:49 PM

Exactly!!!

You have no expectations of privacy on company equipment. Pretty much any company’s HR department will tell employees that their company email can be monitored, their computer usage logged, and so on. However, the company that was turning a webcam on to watch employees at home on their private time would have some major questions to answer – and probably some lawsuits to defend.

Lily on February 23, 2010 at 5:00 PM

Hmm, front page. Nice going, MadisonLiberal.

Of course, this would have been a good time to put in a word about ending the unconstitutional monstrosity of the public education system. That is, if you truly cared about doing such things…

Phony.

2Brave2Bscared on February 23, 2010 at 5:04 PM

2Brave2Bscared on February 23, 2010 at 5:04 PM

Thanks for reading!

MadisonConservative on February 23, 2010 at 5:42 PM

Talk about audacity. Teacher/administrator cruises web cams for kiddie porn, thinks he sees a drug deal, and acts on it.

Slowburn on February 23, 2010 at 7:17 PM

So, what’s the problem?

They’re kids. So it follows that they are largely ignorant, undisciplined and prone to fabricate stories.

Not on that but they may be engaging in an unsustainable, carbon-spewing lifestyle while putting up a ‘green’ facade at school.

There’s an additional benefit in that Childrens Services through the school, can be aware of any child abuse that is occurring. (and any juicy videos they can trade)

schmuck281 on February 23, 2010 at 7:54 PM

Ammonium nitrate

Sonosam on February 23, 2010 at 11:26 AM

“Applied how?”, she asked curiously, not being up on chemistry…

Mary in LA on February 23, 2010 at 8:39 PM

Flowers

Sonosam on February 23, 2010 at 8:56 PM

I know of one case in which a teacher molested a young lady, so to hush the entire incident the school board gave the perpetrator a job in the administration.

Ampleforth on February 23, 2010 at 3:55 PM

http://bigjournalism.com/jhudnall/2010/02/13/the-child-molester-scandal-that-wasnt/

davidk on February 24, 2010 at 6:25 AM

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