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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?

Votes + Comments
Yes It is the violation of student's privacy
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Last Post by happygeek
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Yeah, I think it is necessary. It is a good choice to track laptop in case of being stolen. After all, it is not cheap and maybe there are many important files on the computer. Besides that kids in teens are easy to be affected by some negative things which may cause them do some bad things. But before this, I know many school use Micro Keylogger to monitor teens. They want to figure out what the students do online and see if they have some improper behavior when they are online. Anyway, I support school to spy on teens although it may not good for their privacy.

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The camera should only be enabled remotely if the student has reported the device as lost or stolen. To do so otherwise is an egregious violation of their right to privacy, and is, on the face of it, a felony. Keystroke logging? That is also a violation of privacy, but possibly not illegal, just unethical. If our school district did this to my children or grandchildren, I would have them in court so fast their heads would explode!

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This is a serious issue and highlights some genuine concerns. I say this is a professional and serious manner - what is the children were foolish enough to engage in sexual acts and/or watch pornography using the school computers? What if the camera was enabled when one of the children were getting changed in front of the laptop, or meeting with their partners?

Schools are not allowed camera in or around their toilets and changing rooms for the very same reason!

Personally, I would like to see heads roll over this as well as legislation put in place making it completely illegal until the laptop has been reported lost or stolen by the student or the students parents.

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