Second Lawsuit Over School Webcams Involves Student Who Was Photographed 469 Times Over 2 Months

from the what-happened-to-42-times? dept

Remember the school district in suburban Philadelphia involved in a lawsuit over secretly taking webcam images of students? The school initially denied things, and later said that it had only used the feature 42 times to help find lost or stolen laptops. However, a law firm brought on by the school to investigate its use of the LanRev system found 58,000 images were taken. That’s led some other students to realize that they might have a beef with the Lower Merion School district as well. A second student has now filed a lawsuit against the school after discovering that the school took 469 secret photographs from his webcam over the course of two months.

What happened was that the student lost his laptop on December 18th. The laptop was found by a teacher and returned to the student on the 21st… but also on the 21st, the school’s IT folks turned on LanRev’s “TheftTrak” service. Even though the laptop had been returned to the student, the LanRev system was never turned off. It took 469 secret images and captured 543 secret screenshots. It wasn’t turned off until that first lawsuit was filed, and someone in the IT department realized there might be an issue there…

What’s really scary? If a school administrator hadn’t revealed the whole system to the first student by showing him a photo of him at home, this would still be going on and none of the students would know about it. The only reason this lawsuit is being filed is because of the information that came out during the investigation into the first incident.

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Comments on “Second Lawsuit Over School Webcams Involves Student Who Was Photographed 469 Times Over 2 Months”

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50 Comments
vivaelamor (profile) says:

'Trusted' computing.

I was one of the first kids at our school to get a laptop. Looking back I can’t imagine ever trusting the technicians not to spy on us. I remember they got caught copying a paid version of a popular shareware game from one of the laptops, only because it was found on a share on one of their computers. You can bet that if a kid had been caught doing something as ghastly as violating copyright then they would have been punished severely.

Marcus Carab (profile) says:

Re: 'Trusted' computing.

I’m not sure how long ago that was, but the thing to remember is that each new generation of kids is that much more comfortable and unimpressed by laptops than the last.

I finished school before many had started actually supplying laptops, but I was there at the point that some kids started bringing their own. Laptops were cool, they were amazing, they weren’t “new” but having them as a part of your daily life was. The rules, the delineations of privacy, weren’t laid down… had my school given me a laptop then, I definitely would have been skeptical about my privacy and very very careful what I did with it.

But now? These are kids who have had Facebook profiles for as long as they can remember, who can’t conceive of an internet before Google let alone a world before the internet — kids who have typed far more than they have every written by hand, who have had more IM chats than phone calls. To them, a laptop is nothing special and nothing to be paranoid about. You would assume the school was respecting your privacy every bit as much as if they gave you an agenda book.

Anonymous Coward says:

http://tomoyo.sourceforge.jp/

Protect your system.

* Restricting SSH based services
* Restricting system administrator’s operations
* Per application/user networking firewalls
* Baseline parameter checking for every application (e.g. Web server’s CGI)

* Reducing damage caused by buffer overflow vulnerability and OS command injection vulnerability
* Deploying honey pot system.
* Suits well on Linux based PCs, servers, embedded systems

abc gum says:

Re: Re: Easy fix for you students out there...

Wait, what?

Putting an obstruction in front of the laptop camera is grounds for suspension or expulsion?

Although I can believe that some school administrators would think this is reasonable, I would hope they discuss such things with their counsel beforehand. Certainly it would not stand up in court and the school district could be on the hook for a significant amount of money. I doubt the taxpayers would be impressed and might express themselves whilst voting upon the next bond issue.

In addition, I find it quite unreasonable to make use of the school laptop mandatory.

Justin Mason (user link) says:

Why do students need laptops anyway?

I’m still confused why students need laptops. That’s crazy, and expensive. Apparently their IT department has no clue. Ever hear of a domain, WAN, VPN, Thin Clients? Why give a student a $1,000+ laptop when they can be provided a $100 thin client that provides them the exact same access and functionality. Their account, data, and logs would all be stored directly on the school’s server. Not to mention, this allows the school’s IT department to manage what applications can be used, deploy updates/patches at the server level. And, you can “loose” 10 of the thin clients for the cost of a single laptop, thus negating such a huge concern for lost/stolen units. To me it sounds like the entire concept wasn’t through through properly, and let open room for abuse by that staff as well as students. They really need to hire a consulting firm as it’s obvious they don’t have a grasp on the technology available to them.

Justin Mason (profile) says:

Re: Re: Why do students need laptops anyway?

Rose, a gaming laptop for $1k? Sign me up! But that’s beside the point. If we’re talking $300, $500, $1000, or $3000 as the price of said laptop. Thin clients are many times cheaper in every case, and don’t have to be individually maintained by the IT department on a regular basis (since all the software and files reside on a server). Plus, they have fewer parts for kids to break.

Rose M. Welch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Why do students need laptops anyway?

I didn’t say $1k. I said $1,000+, which is most certainly what a gaming laptop would cost. A laptop covered in diamonds would also fall into this monetary category. 😉

Yes, I agree that thin clients would be alot better for classroom use, which is why I didn’t mention them. I just don’t think that these laptops cost $1,000+, as you stated.

But since we’re talking about it, are there portable wireless thin clients with screens that these kids could take home and use? If there are, I haven’t seen them or heard about them. You say that they cost $100? Sign me up!

Justin Mason (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Why do students need laptops anyway?

Rose, just to be helpful. Here’s how to get a portable, wireless thin client with screens for about $100 each…

Dell Inspiron Mini 10 (1012) – OS Software + Educational Discount = Thin Client for borderline $100.00.

And, that’s just one example of how it could be done.

Make a single image of your desired RDC/VPN platform pre-configured, and your IT department can pop out as many working thin clients as they need in about 5 minutes each. Pass them out to students, and they can take it home.

Rose M. Welch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Why do students need laptops anyway?

A Dell Mini Inspiron 10 is a netbook, which is a smaller… laptop. Sure, it can be used as a thin client, but you were saying that thin clients are better than laptops, not that the laptops should have been run as thin clients.

Also, I’ll believe that $100 estimate when I see it. I paid $249 for my daughter’s refurbished Mini 10v, and I have a hard time seeing them go down lower than $200 for the Mini 10v, much less the Mini 10.

Justin Mason (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Why do students need laptops anyway?

Rose, you are correct. I was providing just one example of how it could be accomplished without any custom hardware configuration. Also, my reference to thin client is specifically intended to represent the concept of a thin client architecture; not the concept of some sort of physical hardware device. In this architecture, technically, any system that utilizes a central server for application deployment and the bulk of processing is a thin client. All the hardware is used for is connecting to the server. This could be a mini (as in the example provided), or virtually any other device. I selected the mini as an example because they fit the criteria of “small, portable, self-contained, including wireless connections w/ screens that students could take home” and also because they were a convenient and accessible example that can easily be researched by anyone.

Also as far as the price for the discussed mini’s goes… I’ve confirmed that, as of today (as the pricing/estimate fluctuates) that the cost per unit for the mini given as an example would be approximately $129 per unit. In fact. The general retail for one of the units, including OS software, is $299. I work for a firm who is also a Dell Certified reseller, so it made the research a bit easier on my part.

Also, with a bit of research, it turns out (ironically considering my initial estimate of their cost) that the school board paid approximately $1,000 per laptop unit. It’s posted in this link on the actual school board’s website, along with several other informative tid-bits: http://www.lmsd.org/sections/news/default.php?t=today&p=lmsd_anno&id=1143

To remain on topic, the point being is that had the school been fiscally responsible and been informed properly, that they could have avoided the very issue that prompted them to authorize the installation of the monitoring software (technically theft, since if it’s sitting in some misplaced book bag somewhere, the web cam likely won’t be of much use).

At $1,000-a-pop, I refer back to my initial comment that started this line of discussion…. Had they invested smartly, there would have been far less incentive for the school board to authorize said “spying” technology on the computer systems, which they openly admit that they failed to inform parents and students about before issuing the units. With a $721k budget, if most of the budget was spent on units they could provide only about 700 units to their listed 6,900-count student body. Using thin client architecture (utilizing the confirmed pricing for the mini’s), they could have provided well over 5,000 units on the exact same budget.

On one hand I commend the LMSD for embracing technology, and realizing that 20th century criteria isn’t going to be of much use to 21st century students. They took the proper first steps in the right direction, but then took two steps back with this monitoring program.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Why do students need laptops anyway?

Also, my reference to thin client is specifically intended to represent the concept of a thin client architecture; not the concept of some sort of physical hardware device.

Huh? Wasn’t the whole discussion about the physical hardware? But now you say you weren’t talking about physical hardware? Maybe you should go back and read the discussion again.

In this architecture, technically, any system that utilizes a central server for application deployment and the bulk of processing is a thin client.

What such a definition as that, the distinction between thin clients and other clients becomes virtually meaningless because full/fat/thick clients (even mainframe super computers) can also function in that way, which is why most people don’t use such a definition. The machines that most people consider to be actual thin clients are incapable of functioning on their own, and that is the main distinction.

And as to why they didn’t use actual thin clients, did you ever consider that reliability (elimination of a single point of failure), performance (network delays) and flexibility (the ability to operate in the absence of network availability) might have been considerations?

Justin Mason (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:6 Why do students need laptops anyway?

Re: Comment #42 (Anonymous)

“In this architecture, technically, any system that utilizes a central server for application deployment and the bulk of processing is a thin client. — Anom”

The discussion was indeed about physical hardware, and continued to be so. Perhaps a re-read yourself might help. The entire point was that by utilizing the thin client architecture, that less expensive hardware could be utilized with the same results. If you’re using RDC/VPN, the your hardware needs little to no processing/storage ability — it’s all handled at the server level.

“What such a definition as that, the distinction between thin clients and other clients becomes virtually meaningless because full/fat/thick clients (even mainframe super computers) can also function in that way, which is why most people don’t use such a definition. The machines that most people consider to be actual thin clients are incapable of functioning on their own, and that is the main distinction. — Anom”

No true. Your argument is flawed. Yes, technically you could run a super computer as a thin client, but what would be the point. Per a Google Definition search, such individuals/service who use the identical definition that I have used: wikipedia, wiktionary, oasis management, netc.org, 64-bit migration, daeja.com, msms.org, IBM.com. So, if my definition is flawed, at least I’m in good company in my misunderstanding and misuse of the definition.

“And as to why they didn’t use actual thin clients, did you ever consider that reliability (elimination of a single point of failure), performance (network delays) and flexibility (the ability to operate in the absence of network availability) might have been considerations? — Anom”

The “single point of failure” is a very outdated point of view and displays a lack of understanding of modern client/server environment. Software platforms such as Microsoft Office, Visual Studio, and even Google have moved in the direction of cloud computing (do a search, there are hundreds of other industry leaders moving onto the cloud). This allows the bulk of the processing to be handled at managed multi cluster server level. There are many reasons that this is the trend in the industry. 1) Affordability, 2) Maintainability, and 3) Dependability. The thin client/server architecture is no different: Use an inexpensive device to utilize the power of a cluster. It’s cheaper to buy/maintain a very powerful server cluster than it is to purchase/maintain multiple stand-alone systems.

Which gets us back to the point. The units supplied to the students could have been around 1/10th the cost, thus reducing the financial impact of lost/stolen units that provoked the perceived need for monitoring software that led to this issue to begin with.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:7 Why do students need laptops anyway?

The discussion was indeed about physical hardware, and continued to be so. Perhaps a re-read yourself might help.

Hmmm, “..my reference to thin client is specifically intended to represent the concept of a thin client architecture; not the concept of some sort of physical hardware device” sure sounds like someone trying to claim that they weren’t talking about “some sort of physical hardware device” to me. But maybe that was another “Justin Mason”. So just how many Justin Masons are here, anyway?

No true. Your argument is flawed.

Actually, that argument was based on your own definition. Perhaps, then, there might be a slight problem with your definition?

Per a Google Definition search, such individuals/service who use the identical definition that I have used

OK, so a mainframe super computer is a thin client (uh huh). And I think your credibility has completely evaporated, in which case I see no reason to even read the rest of your comment.

Justin Mason (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:6 Why do students need laptops anyway?

Re: Anonymous from Comment #42

Also wanted to follow up with one of your points that I felt perhaps was valid, that I didn’t respond to in my previous post. Thin client network accessibility would indeed be inhibited by thin clients… however, in this case, so would the web cams that were use for monitoring 😉

Considering the web-cams were such a impactful part of the school boards overall deployment plan, I’d assume that likely network accessibility was not one of the considerations.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Why do students need laptops anyway?

this allows the school’s IT department to manage what applications can be used, deploy updates/patches at the server level.

That could be the problem. If your IT staff is undersized or incompetent, you wouldn’t want to rely on such a solution. Not saying that’s the case here, but it could be a possibility in general.

Justin Mason (user link) says:

Re: Re: Why do students need laptops anyway?

Nasch, if you’re IT staff is undersized, this is *exactly* the solution you want to rely on. What’s easier maintaining one server or dozens+ of individual systems. As far as for incompetent… well, if that’s the case, see also my suggestion that they need to get consultation from a professional firm.

NullOp says:

Rulz

As long as there is thievery, bullying and other crimes occurring I have no problem with monitoring the little creeps with cameras or whatever. Remember, IT’S THE KIDS that brought this on themselves and personally I’m sick of it! If the little bastards had been slapped onto the floor the first time they talked-back a lot of this stuff would never have started. School is a privilege not a right although the vast majority of dumbasses see it as something to piss on!!!!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Rulz

As long as there is thievery, bullying and other crimes occurring I have no problem with monitoring the little creeps with cameras or whatever.

Same thing with the general population. Cameras on every corner (like in the UK) would be a start, but surveillance cameras in every home, like the Houston, Texas Chief of Police proposed, are what we really need. Just make it the law and then we won’t need to piggyback on the schools to get them there. Really, I see no other way to detect and arrest the various kinds of IP thievery that occur every day, outside of the Internet, in private homes around the country. It’s good that these kids are being taught that in school.

Justin Mason (profile) says:

Re: Rulz

Funny. 😉 But last time I checked, in this country school is neither a privilege or a right, but a requirement. Less the truancy officers come knocking at your door. Whether your comment was said in jest or not, I think it may have inadvertently hit the core nerve of the topic. We are American citizens, public schools are government funded, students are required to attend school, for the majority of students home school/private school/charter schools are not currently an option, these cameras were issued to the students to take into their private homes where said “spying” took place. So to sum it up, you have a government funded organization forced upon American citizens issuing equipment to be placed in private homes where unauthorized monitoring took place. It’s a constitutional nightmare and the lawyers will have a field day with in the courts.

Philly Bob says:

Scary...

If School is such a privilege, then why is it MANDATORY????
Like, you can be arrested for not attending! FAIL!!

Back to the camera… If I found a camera shot of say, my daughter undressing etc. I’d be tearing up some school ass. You never know what they have recorded. A couple of girls in the buff at a sleepover, a kid getting called to the office because he gave his brother some M&Ms that looked like pills. There’s a whole list of things that can go wrong…. all for our children’s “protection”! Wonderful eh?

Justin Mason (profile) says:

Looks like a potential market to me...

You know, ideally, this is the perfect example of a very large potential market for a few smart investors.

1) Form a company/division of existing company that’s goal is to specifically cater to the 1-to-1 initiative for schools nationwide.
2) Build a very specific, low cost, thin client unit that could be licensed on a per-student basis to the school board (even a low-cost yearly license fee per unit)
3) Sell the server, and X number of units licenses to schools
4) includes basic maintenance on the units as a part of the license
a) Hardware failures could be simply handled by replacement of unit with another working unit, moving the broken unit into a slower-paced repair flow, and providing an immediate fix for the client
5) Install a GPS-oriented security device/firmware into every unit (LoJack comes to mind as an example) and have the on/off, monitoring, tracking handled by an independent security firm when a unit is stolen — since technically it’s just licensed to the schools, it remains the property of the vendor.

This would provide a sustainable, budget-friendly solution for schools to move their curriculum’s into the 21st century, remove “privacy” concerns (such as the very topic of this article), remove the responsibility from the IT departments to maintain the individual units. Also, since, without the server, the units are virtually useless, it would negate the largest incentives for theft.

I’m sure there’s fodder for a hefty government grant in there somewhere due to the focus on the education sector.

Honestly, I wish I had the time and resources to dedicate to this concept, I see it as a fantastic opportunity.

Justin Mason (profile) says:

Re: Looks like a potential market to me...

Just expanding on this a bit more for the sake of conversation… Throw in some substantial tax write-offs and awesome PR for a wireless phone company (insert Verizon/AT&T, etc.), and each unit could be provided with an acceptable level of connectivity for students even when the units were not in proximity of an available open network.

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