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13 Oct 2010

Snooping on students costs school district $610k

Wired.com is reporting that the Lower Merion school district found guilty of invading its students' privacy by spying on them through webcameras installed in the school-issued MacBook laptops, has to pay $610,000 to settle lawsuits brought by two students. 

The school district claims not to have been deliberately spying on students in a non-specific way (a 'dragnet' operation).  However, the fact that a secret photo was used by the school as evidence to discipline a student indicates that, at the very least, it was deliberately and consciously using the software to snoop on the student concerned. 

Snooping facilities of this nature are normally intended to obtain evidence and so help recover stolen computers.  This begs questions about whether such evidence might open the door to privacy complaints by those accused of stealing or using stolen computers.

Furthermore, this case potentially has implications for other situations in which an organization, or indeed an individual, provides someone with IT gizmos and facilities such as email, phones, PCs, PDAs etc. that enable them to snoop on users.  Targeted, covert observation may be permitted for certain law enforcement and other evidentiary purposes (e.g. to prove theft or fraud or some other serious crime) but dragnetting is probably illegal (IANAL!  This is not legal advice!  Ask a real lawyer about that!).


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