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.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

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    Tyanna, May 6th, 2010 @ 7:41am

    Correct me if I'm wrong, but wasn't this feature prominently displayed during a show and tell news story? Didn't a few of the teachers talk about how they were able to turn on the webcam? They actually did it on camera and freaked out a girl and had a slight laugh about it.

    So, how could no one under the IT level know about it when they showed it in a news story?

    Seems to me that this report is made of BS.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, May 6th, 2010 @ 8:02am

      Re:

      If I remember correctly that was a different school system entirely...

      I'm curious about the number of school systems that used this software or other programs like it.

       

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    mjb5406 (profile), May 6th, 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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    Anonymous Coward, May 6th, 2010 @ 8:26am

    What kind of screwed up world do we live in that two consenting teenagers of equal age can get in trouble for posing naked in front of each other, yet voyeuristic assholes like these school personnel don't get prosecuted as felons for spying on kids under their care?

     

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      DH's love child, May 6th, 2010 @ 8:42am

      Re:

      Yep, welcome to the fine Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. This is a place where you can't buy a car from a dealership on Sunday's (seriously), and have to go to a special store to buy beer (which IS available on Sundays).

       

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        Poor Pa, May 6th, 2010 @ 9:07am

        Re: Re:

        And you have to go to yet another store to buy liquor, and those stores have only been allowed to open on Sundays in the past 2-4 years.

        Plan your party supply trips accordingly! ProTip: gas up the car first.

        I cannot comprehend how NO ONE in this situation thought to bring up privacy violation issues, how NO ONE gave a slim thought to the possibility that if they can spy on other people's kids, their kids could be just as easily victimized.

         

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        Anonymous Coward, May 6th, 2010 @ 10:05am

        Re: Re:

        You've got Indiana beat at least. We can't buy a car or any alcohol on Sundays...

         

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        Michael, May 6th, 2010 @ 12:13pm

        Re: Re:

        Oh yeah - Connecticut...can't buy a car on Sunday, can't by alcohol on Sunday or after 8 PM, and can't do your laundry in a parking space.

        I'm not sure how that last one happened without alcohol after 8PM and on Sundays for a long period of time...

         

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    stevehn (profile), May 6th, 2010 @ 9:13am

    I sure do love those lawyer talks. Yup, aside from those 58,000 spy photos, there's no evidence of spying.

     

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    Overcast (profile), May 6th, 2010 @ 9:38am

    I bet a Levy for that district will never pass for the next 50+ years.

     

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    senshikaze (profile), May 6th, 2010 @ 10:27am

    so the only ones they blamed was the IT department.

    Yea, nice to know you take the fall if you do you job correctly. I would be out of there in a heartbeat if i read that line.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, May 6th, 2010 @ 10:40am

      Re:

      As an IT drone, I'd generally agree, but I can tell you right now that if my school district passed anything remotely close to this I'd be doing more than sitting in my chair staring at students at home and giggling about it.

       

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      Anonymous Coward, May 6th, 2010 @ 12:14pm

      Re:

      Yeah because their bosses MADE them do something unethical. They may not have given the order, but they are just as guilty. Sure, the higher-ups getting away with it is BS, but these people deserve to burn as well.

       

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    mike allen (profile), May 6th, 2010 @ 10:47am

    i bet this is all BS and the spying came from the top the govenors and head muxt have sanctioned this.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, May 6th, 2010 @ 1:44pm

    But, but, but... Didn't this whole story come to light when an administrator busted the student for popping what they thought were pills? Obviously at least one administrator knew there were pictures taken surreptitiously and knew the contents of them.

     

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    Jay, May 6th, 2010 @ 4:11pm

    ?

    What was the purpose of this intrusion in the first place?!

     

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    Doh, May 6th, 2010 @ 4:39pm

    Why are these kids so pessimistic?

    I think the lesson being taught here is, trust no one.

     

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      OldGeek, May 6th, 2010 @ 5:01pm

      Re: Why are these kids so pessimistic?

      I used to work for the government, I don't trust anyone! When I use my webcam and/or mic, I unplug them when I'm finished.

       

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    Dwight, May 6th, 2010 @ 7:29pm

    Weasel word

    "surreptitiously"

     

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    Anonymous Coward, May 21st, 2010 @ 2:36pm

    I just can't believe none of these kids had a parent who works in IT wondering why this strange device on their network is calling home so frequently with encrypted packets XD the only reason this was ever caught it seems was that kid with the candy accused of using drugs a few months back

     

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    Puppy Vaccine, Jan 16th, 2013 @ 1:23am

    what has this world come to!!!!????

     

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