(Mis)Uses of Technology

by Karl Bode


Filed Under:
school, spying



Laptop Scandal School's Own Law Firm: Aside From Those 58,000 Spy Photos, There's No Evidence Of Spying

from the we-find-ourselves-not-guilty dept

A law firm employed by the Pennsylvania school district caught using student laptop webcams to spy on students at home has released a 72-page report (pdf) on the incident after a 10-week investigation. Most of the report's findings aren't too surprising; it exonerates most higher-level school officials like any wealthy school district's in-house investigation should, concluding that there's no evidence indicating that anybody above the IT level "knew how TheftTrack worked or understood that it could collect large quantities of webcam photographs or screenshots." The report also confirms reports that the system took some 58,000 images -- a far cry from the 42 images the school originally claimed.

Aside from those 57,958 extra photos and screenshots, e-mails alleging that school administrators found the spy technology entertaining -- and the fact the system was only unearthed in the first place because a student's at-home behavior was spied on -- the study concludes that "we found no evidence that District personnel used TheftTrack to "spy" on students." Still, at least the report slams the school district for being "overzealous" in their use of the technology, and for having a complete disregard for student privacy:

"Although there is no forensic method to determine with certainty how often images stored on the LANrev server were viewed, we found no evidence that any District 3 personnel surreptitiously downloaded images from the LANrev server. Rather, the collection of images from laptops while they were in the possession of students resulted from the district's failure to implement policies, procedures and recordkeeping requirements, and the overzealous and questionable use of technology by IS personnel without any apparent regard for privacy considerations or sufficient consultation with administrators."
By and large the study places the lion's share of the blame on school IT folks, most of whom were already forced to retire. It does seem rather convenient that the district was allowed to hire their own law firm to investigate (at least when lawyers weren't working with plaintiffs to allegedly help keep evidence out of the hands of federal investigators). That's of course the first thing the lawyer for the district's former IS director Virginia DiMedio complained about. While the IT folks certainly appear oblivious and culpable, there seems to be plenty of incompetence to go around. Hopefully higher level administrators aren't entirely immune to the ultimate fallout, given they failed to pay any attention to the fact their district was busily building a little Macbook surveillance state with little to no accountability.

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  1. icon
    mjb5406 (profile), 6 May 2010 @ 8:23am

    Got this from an attorney...

    Yes, I also read Engadget, which also reported on this. I questioned the legitimacy of a school district-hired attorney issuing this report, saying that a neutral third party should be used instead, and received this reply:

    'I am an attorney and I can tell you first hand that you can get "experts" to find just about anything you want them to. I'd be willing to bet that the expert report and subsequent affidavits submitted by the students counsel are the exact opposite of this report.'

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