March 29 2010

School Webcam Case Gets The Attention Of The U.S. Senate

If anything good has come from the Lower Merion School District it is that it is causing the wiretapping law to be reexamined.

The recent situation with the Lower Merion School District using the built-in webcams of the school issued laptops to potentially spy on individuals that had either stolen the laptops or taken them off of school property without permission.  The issues arose when the school activated the camera of a laptop in the possession of Blake Robbins and he was in turn accused of being involved with drugs due to some candies he was eating being mistook for pills.

It was discovered that every laptop had the software installed to remotely access the cameras, and none of the families in the district had been notified of this fact.

Totally separate of the original manner, which has become a huge controversy, the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee of Crime and Drugs held a “field hearing” today at Philadelphia’s US District Court, Courtroom 3B, headed up by Sen. Arlen Specter (D-PA).  The meeting did not involve the actual school district as this is more of a general issue, but the subcommittee did hear evidence from the Electronic Frontier Foundation about why the wiretapping laws should be expanded to cover any means of recording where one has a reasonable expectation of privacy, so this would have no impact on ATMs, casinos, street cams and more (all examples that were mentioned).

While there have been the critics and families that have questioned why this is even a story, but I think the Senate looking into it makes it pretty clear that things went wrong here.  How would you feel if you were sitting at home and you learned that the webcam staring at you could be activated without your permission or knowledge?  Not a good feeling, and you should have the right to not even worry about such a situation.

No final decision was made today, but it’s good to know that the situation is at least being looked into.

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