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Web Cam Spying Case in PA, USA
There’s long been disagreement surrounding the topic of the rights of organizations to monitor the activity of their computers or those on their networks. An alleged invasion of privacy case centering on a high school in Pennsylvania, USA has revived the debate this past week, and brought in a new angle to it – what rights do students and school administrators have?
According to reports, the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is now investigating allegations that school officials at a Pennsylvania school district remotely spied on a high school student in his home. The lawsuit that the student’s parents have brought against the school alleges that the district unlawfully used its ability to access a web cam remotely on their son’s school-issued laptop; according to the complaint, the student was told by an assistant school principal that he was captured in a photo taken by his PC’s web cam engaging in “improper behavior.” The family says that they were not notified of the school’s ability to access the laptop’s web cam remotely.
While school officials have also stated that there was no explicit notification to the parents or students that the web cams could be activated in their homes, they have confirmed that the school computers, which were issued to all 2,300 students in the district, have built-in security features allowing remote access to be used only if the machines were lost or stolen.
From a big picture perspective, the privacy concerns stemming from the case is not only why notice was not given, but more so what the potential consequences of the remote access could very well have been - and why more thorough guards against abuse were not taken into consideration. "What about the (potential) abuse of power from higher ups, trying to find out more information about the head of the PTA? If you don't think about the privacy and security consequences of using this kind of technology, you run into problems," Ari Schwartz of the Center for Democracy and Technology, was quoted in an AP story.
The FBI and local authorities, reports say, are currently looking into whether the school district broke any computer-intrusion or federal wiretap laws. There’s sure to be more news and commentary on this as the story unfolds. We’ll keep you updated.