Privacy

by Mike Masnick


Filed Under:
privacy, tracking

Companies:
absolute software



Secretly Snapping Naked Pics Of The Woman Who Ended Up With A Stolen Laptop Might Just Be Illegal

from the privacy-gets-tricky dept

We've had a few stories recently about tracking software used to find stolen laptops. Some of the stories are about how useful that kind of software can be, while other stories show how that kind of technology can be abused to potentially violate someone's privacy. The latter situation has resulted in a lawsuit against Absolute Software, which makes Lojack for computers.

Apparently a student at a school in Ohio had stolen a laptop, sold it to another student for $40, who then sold it to a regular substitute teacher at the school for $60. It was that teacher -- a widow -- who used the computer to rekindle an old romance. Somewhere along the line, the school district asked Absolute to track down its stolen laptop. Rather than just using tools to locate it, Absolute used the spying features that allowed it to see what was on the screen. And apparently that included some sex chatting:
According to court documents, in June 2008 Magnus began recording Clements-Jeffrey’s keystrokes and monitoring her web surfing. At one point, while snooping on Clements-Jeffrey’s webcam communications with her boyfriend, Magnus also captured three screenshots from her laptop monitor, which showed Clements-Jeffrey naked in the webcam images. In one picture, her legs were spread apart.

Magnus subsequently sent the pictures and recorded communications, along with Clements-Jeffrey’s name and contact information, to a police detective. When the police showed up at the plaintiff’s apartment to collect the laptop, they were brandishing the explicit images Magnus had sent them. They then arrested and charged her for receiving stolen property. The charges, however, were dismissed about a week later.
Yikes! Susan Clements-Jeffrey and her boyfriend are now suing Absolute for violating her privacy. The company claimed that there is no privacy issue because there's no privacy when it comes to stolen goods. But, of course, the response is that she had no idea it was stolen, and certainly had no expectation that any such software was on the computer. The judge in the case has refused Absolute's motion for summary judgment, meaning that the case will now move to a full trial (assuming no settlement).

It certainly is a tricky question. If the laptop really did belong to the school district, do they have the right to use software like that? Perhaps, but there are certainly privacy questions here as well, combined with the fact that there were other, significantly less intrusive methods that probably would have revealed who had the computer. But, at the very least, this should be a warning sign for anyone considering stripping naked in front of a used computer...

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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Sep 2011 @ 9:58am

    Re: Re: Doesn't have to be used

    From what I can gather Computrace can send Absolute the network cards' IP addresses if the drive is encrypted but nothing else.

    Intel AMT on the other hand can transcend drive encryption. It's installed software-side via device drivers. It's blockable if someone knows what it does or if they turn Windows's automatic driver installation feature off. Intel AMT also has a BIOS-level mode like Computrace.

    These features have to be set up beforehand to work. They can be disabled in the BIOS. For the truly paranoid maybe someone can hack the BIOS to break or strip out Computrace/AMT.

    There should be alternate BIOSs available though by the manufacturer though. Imagine this tech being (ab)used in hospitals, government offices and nuke plants.

    Remote wipe is nice but screen viewing and keystroke logging is a security hole IMO...

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