One of the biggest security stories so far this year is that of the high school that remotely triggered webcams in laptops given to students -- which the school said it only did to help track stolen laptops, and which some students and families said was a violation of their privacy, with the student in question filing a class-action lawsuit.
The school, Harriton in the Lower Merion School District, in a suburb of Philadelphia, said it has activated the cameras -- which parents reportedly didn't know about -- on 42 of the laptops.
An extremely detailed post in a security blog includes links to high school administrators talking about the technology collects student reports about the camera randomly blinking on, and lists requirements that the school had for students with the laptops.
"Possession of a monitored Macbook was required for classes
Possession of an unmonitored personal computer was forbidden and would be confiscated
Disabling the camera was impossible
Jailbreaking a school laptop in order to secure it or monitor it against intrusion was an offense which merited expulsion"
Parents have also posted online, with some of them -- including one who posted on the Facebook page of Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, saying that some parents were aware of the feature, that students weren't upset, and that the student who filed the lawsuit -- who was made aware of the program when he was confronted with a picture of himself at home -- was a bad actor who'd damaged other laptops.
Aside from the specific incident, there are a number of larger questions.
To what degree can, in general, integrated webcams be activated remotely?
Could school administrators be charged with child pornography?
Will there be people who want this feature as a theft prevention device?
What will happen to other laptops issued by schools to students? Are they being checked?