Posted by: reformedmusings | December 11, 2010

Resolution in Lower Merion School District webcam spy case

Another cleanup item to close the loop. Recall that the Lower Merion School District installed the ability to remotely activate the webcams on laptops issued to its students. They didn’t bother to inform either the students or parents of the ability to spy on them through the laptop. The IT staff then collected thousands of pictures of students from the webcams, including in their homes. One family and a graduated student sued the district, and the FBI investigated the situation. More on this sick situation here, here, here, here. All told, the district took some 56,000 photos with the laptops, including at least one student sleeping in his bed.

Since my last update, Lower Merion finally adopted a new, stricter policy on laptop surveillance of its students. The U.S. Attorney’s office declined to bring charges against the individuals responsible after a six-month FBI investigation.

Some justice was done, though. Lower Merion School District settled the family’s lawsuit for $610,000. That doesn’t include the over $1M the school district paid its own lawyers and tech experts.

What I said in an earlier post bears repeating:

Remember Fox Mulder’s watchword and computer password from the X-Files: “Trust no one.” Especially an unaccountable government entity.

Information technology advances have improved and enhanced our daily lives in ways unimaginable just decades ago. But with those advances comes serious responsibilities to understand and properly manage the implications, especially privacy impacts. I am covering the events in LMSD on this humble blog specifically to illustrate in microcosm the horrible outcomes possible as a result of complacency, failures to lead responsibly, and to hold leaders and “experts” accountable. Semper Vigilans must be more than just the Civil Air Patrol‘s motto. It’s the price of freedom, and the obligation of the free.

The price of stupidity and complacency for LMSD came in at something over $1.6M, not counting the price of broken community and personal relationships.


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