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  • School Uses MacBooks to Spy On Kids


    A lawsuit has been filed against a suburban Philadelphia school district accusing administrators of remotely activating the iSight cameras in school-provided MacBooks to spy on students in their homes. The school claims that it used the cameras only to determine the location of lost or stolen MacBooks, but one student was accused of selling drugs and shown a still picture taken from his iSight as evidence against him. The FBI is investigating the school.

    About 1,800 students at the Lower Merion High School (where Kobe Bryant played basketball in the 90s) and Harriton High School across town were all issued MacBooks as part of a state and federally funded "one-to-one" laptop program. Student Blake Robbins was called into the Harriton High School principal's office last November and accused of "improper behavior in his home." He was shown an image that he was told had been taken by his notebook's embedded camera. The student's parents, Michael and Holly Robbins, then went to the assistant principal and complained that the school had never told them that the camera could be activated remotely. The assistant principal told the boy's father that the school claimed the right to turn on the iSight camera "at any time it chose and to view and capture whatever images were in front of the Webcam, all without the knowledge, permission or authorization of any persons then and there using the laptop computer," according to the lawsuit.

    After the spying was revealed, the school acknowledged that it had activated students' cameras 42 times over a 14-month period, but insisted that each time it was done it was merely an attempt to locate a stolen or missing MacBook. The Robbins family accuses the school district of violating the Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution as well as the Electronic Communication Privacy Act, the Computer Fraud Abuse Act, the Stored Communications Act, Section 1983 of the Civil Rights Act, and the Pennsylvania Wiretapping and Electronic Surveillance Act. They are attempting to make the lawsuit a class action so that more of the 1,800 students can join in the lawsuit, which asks for unspecified monetary damages.

    The school has not released any images or described what sorts of activities were photographed, but shocked students are upset about the invasion of their privacy and wondering wht they might have been seen doing. One girl says that she kept her MacBook open at all times, including when she was getting dressed and showering, and is worried that the camera might have been activated on her MacBook at those times.
    This article was originally published in forum thread: School Uses MacBooks to Spy On Kids started by Paul Daniel Ash View original post
    Comments 61 Comments
    1. matthew1111's Avatar
      matthew1111 -
      I think the school should be sued...thats BS!
      I'd tape like duck tape over the camera...
    1. ajl917's Avatar
      ajl917 -
      Quote Originally Posted by SpIcYjOe View Post
      this is totally crazy but i am curious tho. Usually now laptops have a small little LED light at the side of the webcam to indicate that the webcam is on right? Same goes to external webcam.

      Won't that be like a signal to the student that someone is accessing the laptop webcam?
      The lights were coming on, and these kids noticed it, but instead of realizing they were being spied on, some of them took it to their school's tech department and they said it was a software glitch...
    1. ja1lbr3akma5ter's Avatar
      ja1lbr3akma5ter -
      I have to say, I'm appalled that the school would go as far as to monitor students through the camera on the macbooks, but I'm not at all surprised just how far they went. I live in Maine, where we have the MLTI laptop program, and I was suspended early this year JUST for having a blog that showed students how to do fun things with their laptops (I go to Camden Hills Regional High School, which is reputed for its "good administration"). They only found this out through an intense monitoring system where IT administrators waste their time looking at student's screens over the WIFI network. Because they have enabled screensharing at all times, they also can monitor students laptop use at home. Dozens of kids have gotten in trouble because they're gone on a gaming site or other "unauthorized, unschool related" site at home or at school.
      The reason this lawsuit WONT go through, as we found out through my suspension, is that constitutional amendments DONT apply in schools. This is unfortunate, because my school could have easily been sued for millions due to free speech laws. Unfortunately these laws don't apply to students...
    1. Epic118's Avatar
      Epic118 -
      If the person owning the MacBook was REALLY clever, they'd be able to check through the Login Items, and disable anything suspicious, or at least disable the iSight camera (which I myself do not know how to do). They could even get a black piece of paper and stick it on the camera, if they were that clever.

      If the school was clever, they'd put Parental Controls on, make the user limited, etc.

      One bad thing is that they might have put it in as a virus by modifying the Finder. But, then again, avast! comes to the rescue...
    1. Windmeel's Avatar
      Windmeel -
      Quote Originally Posted by KartRacer View Post
      One thing you need to understand here.

      1. It is a constitutional right. It's called the 4th Amendment you idiot. This is illegal search and seizure. I'll even quote it for you since you obviously have no clue what your inalienable rights are
      Just like DUI checkpoints. Patently against the 4th Amendment yet it happens all the time.
    1. 2Jaze's Avatar
      2Jaze -
      Quote Originally Posted by hitman10 View Post
      This is disgusting. They should be sued. Who are they to remotely view a students isight? That sounds ****ing petafile.

      *pedophile
    1. cypherpunk's Avatar
      cypherpunk -
      Quote Originally Posted by hitman10 View Post
      This is disgusting. They should be sued. Who are they to remotely view a students isight? That sounds ****ing petafile.
      Pedophile? Actually no, since the laptops were only given to high school students, not elementary or middle-school kids. Definitely a good chance they're perverts and potential rapists tho.
      Sorry, I just had to jump on this quote because I have a real pet peeve for words that are constantly misused by the media. Most people seem to use "pervert", "rapist" and "pedo" almost interchangeably these days and it's getting almost as annoying as "hacker==software cracker". All pedophiles are perverts, but most perverts (including the ones in this case) are not pedophiles.


      Actually what really annoys me here is the REASON they were spying on him. Murder? Bomb threat? Firearms? Nope. Just drugs. What a ridiculous reason to go after someone in the first place, let alone violate his privacy for God knows how long. The fact is it shouldn't be anyone's business what they choose to put into their own bodies. It doesn't do anyone else any harm (except for the artificial scarcity which is a direct result of drug laws).

      I hope that school district gets what it deserves.
    1. Dorkenstein909's Avatar
      Dorkenstein909 -
      that is so screwed up its unbelievable. I'd make that skool pay out the *** in damages
    1. KartRacer's Avatar
      KartRacer -
      Quote Originally Posted by DeltaFX View Post
      wow, okay yeah invasion of privacy but seriously the only reason they are fighting this in court is because they got caught selling drugs, if you arent doing anything wrong who gives a shiza? I know the school was in the wrong too because they didnt have any warrants etc. but i think it should still be credible evidence to send the drugee kid to jail, just like the ACORN chick that admitted to killing her husband on tape, she shouldve been sentenced but the evidence wasnt "credible". its too easy for criminals to get away with stuff we need a tougher beefed up version of the patriot act, and like i said if you arent doing anything wrong, guess what??? you dont have to worry!
      You are a danger to my personal inalienable rights and I wish people like you would keep your mouth shut. If you believe the BS you speak post your email login name and password. Idiots like you talk the talk but you realize just how dumb you are when someone asks you for very private information. Stop spreading your warped views, you're dangerous to the rest of us. People get put on a terrorist no fly list all the time without commiting any crime and it's impossible to get your name off it or defend yourself. Guilty until proven innocent, if we'd enforce the laws we already have we wouldn't have the probelms we do. The White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel is the most dangerous person in the US as far as our rights go, you're a very close second. Idiot.

      Quote Originally Posted by ja1lbr3akma5ter View Post
      Unfortunately these laws don't apply to students...
      Your Constitutional Rights do not stop when you go on a school campus. People like you CHOOSE to give up your rights. You give them the opening to violate your rights, YOU WILL LOSE THEM. Stop letting them, and they'll stop doing it. You people scare me more than they guys doing this kind of stuff because you bend over and take it.
    1. DeltaFX's Avatar
      DeltaFX -
      @ Kart Racer first of all if you read my posts you would see that I agree that the school was not supposed to do that, and it was unconstitutional. As far as our privacy goes, in regards to the government, national security usually comes at the cost of privacy. Since I dont break the law or do shameful things im willing to sacrifice some privacy for more security. Im not saying give up all your privacy, but seriously its people like you that throw hissy fits about "oh you cant tap these people's phone lines, what if theyre innocent"? people like you are the reason 9/11 happened because you restrain agencies like the FBI from gaining CRUCIAL intelligence.
    1. PAKIS-RULEZ's Avatar
      PAKIS-RULEZ -
      thats y i have a stick on my laptop webcam and disabled my internal mic lol dam these kids r such noobs lol lamers r deserver to be punished so both the student and the school should be punished!
    1. KING_MATH3RS's Avatar
      KING_MATH3RS -
      Eh the way i see it is the end justifies the means ( school side) Meaning bad things done for good reasons are okay bt on the kids side it was a major invasion of privacy think about it u cnt gt n trouble for telling thr cops u smoke crack only if they catch u in the act same for drug dealing right?
    1. mouse0270's Avatar
      mouse0270 -
      Now I don't live in Philly, but I am a computer nerd. And I don't know if the techs in Philly did this or not. But getting that LED not to turn on when you activate that camera isn't that hard. You could probably do it in a matter of minutes. So far why the kids never realized the LED light could be one of three things.

      1.) The kids aren't tech savy and don't know what the LED means. (Highly doubt that though.)
      2.) The kids were smart enough to question that, and they were told that it was a malfunction. (Which I would call a cover up, but I am not a lawyer so I don't know it that counts towards a case. That the School was lieing why the LED was coming on.)
      3.) They disabled the LED. My personal Favorite.

      P.S.
      Quote Originally Posted by ja1lbr3akma5ter View Post
      They only found this out through an intense monitoring system where IT administrators waste their time looking at student's screens over the WIFI network. Because they have enabled screensharing at all times, they also can monitor students laptop use at home. Dozens of kids have gotten in trouble because they're gone on a gaming site or other "unauthorized, unschool related" site at home or at school.
      I would have to say the difference in your school area and Philly's is your was just taking screen shots of the computers display, meaning the worst your going to see is a student looking at porn, or that student stupidly putting a nude photo of themselves on a school computer. Which is completely the students fault. Philly's problem to me is that they aren't taking a screen shot of the desktop they are looking at the area of where the laptop is. A bedroom, bathroom, or just the students house. That's a whole lot different. Lets say I was to take my laptop into my bathroom to take a bath and listen to music I want it faced towards me to change the song or whatever else. Your school district is going to be able to tell I was listening to music. Philly would see me in the tube. See the problem.
    1. ronfin44's Avatar
      ronfin44 -
      Quote Originally Posted by DeltaFX View Post
      @ Kart Racer first of all if you read my posts you would see that I agree that the school was not supposed to do that, and it was unconstitutional. As far as our privacy goes, in regards to the government, national security usually comes at the cost of privacy. Since I dont break the law or do shameful things im willing to sacrifice some privacy for more security. Im not saying give up all your privacy, but seriously its people like you that throw hissy fits about "oh you cant tap these people's phone lines, what if theyre innocent"? people like you are the reason 9/11 happened because you restrain agencies like the FBI from gaining CRUCIAL intelligence.
      Are you insane? You can't even use this line of reasoning to justify the gross negligence on the part of the school for violating these kids rights. You're gonna try and tie this to 9/11 now? You're grasping for straws guy. It doesn't matter if you break the law or not. When you're sitting there in your tight-whiteys workin a chub to some Tub Girl video, do you want some guy from some govt agency you think is saving you from terrorists to sit there and watch you work your rig? I'm sorry, but I'd rather st next to Haji the Speedo Bomber on my next flight rather than have my rights taken from me. If you don't mind having hardly any rights then move to China. I think you'll love it.
    1. cmwade77's Avatar
      cmwade77 -
      Ok, just a heads up for anyone that gets an electronic product from somewhere besides a retailer (especially if the box is already open):
      1. Download a fresh copy of everything on the device from the appropriate manufacturer's website, using a different computer and burning it to a disc or copying to a flash drive that has never been used in the device received, if a download isn't available, then contact the manufacturer to get fresh Discs (do not use the included ones, as they could have been modified).
      2. Reformat or restore the device to it's original factory condition. If it is something like an iPhone, be sure to restore it in DFU mode, I would also recommend jailbreaking it and changing the root password.
      3. Install firewall software that will report anytime data is trying to be sent out from an unknown/unapproved application.
      4. Install antivirus software
      5. Install antispyware software (as appropriate for your operating system)

      As far as the LED light, there are programs for the Mac that will allow the activation of the webcam without the light being turned on, these are generally intended to help recover lost or stolen machines.

      In this case I suspect that the evidence collected could not be used. In addition, the school has no right to take any disciplinary action against the student, as the activity did not take place on school grounds. Please note, that depending on state law, the school may be required to report the activity to the police, but then it is up to the DA to determine that the evidence was collected illegally and not pursue charges.

      In addition installing this software without notifying both the student and parents would be illegal in and of it's self, as it allows the recording of conversations without the consent of at least one of the parties (which is illegal in every state without a search warrant), most states requires that both parties be notified, so depending on their laws, it may be illegal, even if the notify the parents and students.

      Quote Originally Posted by ja1lbr3akma5ter View Post
      I have to say, I'm appalled that the school would go as far as to monitor students through the camera on the macbooks, but I'm not at all surprised just how far they went. I live in Maine, where we have the MLTI laptop program, and I was suspended early this year JUST for having a blog that showed students how to do fun things with their laptops (I go to Camden Hills Regional High School, which is reputed for its "good administration"). They only found this out through an intense monitoring system where IT administrators waste their time looking at student's screens over the WIFI network. Because they have enabled screensharing at all times, they also can monitor students laptop use at home. Dozens of kids have gotten in trouble because they're gone on a gaming site or other "unauthorized, unschool related" site at home or at school.
      The reason this lawsuit WONT go through, as we found out through my suspension, is that constitutional amendments DONT apply in schools. This is unfortunate, because my school could have easily been sued for millions due to free speech laws. Unfortunately these laws don't apply to students...
      Actually, Constitutional amendments DO apply in schools, as the Supreme Court has declared numerous times. Bottom line is do as I have said in my previous post and it will disable screen sharing, unless you specifically enable it.
    1. hackint0uch's Avatar
      hackint0uch -
      That is SO BAD. They should be sued. Whouldn't the light have come on? Mabey they took apart the MacBooks and disconnected the LED? I wish I could bring my MacBook to school and have a school app. I only take it for DT and IT work. A school iPhone and mac app would be cool but not if it spud on me. I hope the school doesn't have an iPhone app, they could use that camera while the students use the app or mabey if it uses that apple developer thing that let's you put your app on other phones without app store they could background the app and use it to spy.

      Quote (can't do normal quote, on iPhone): If the person owning the MacBook was REALLY clever, they'd be able to check through the Login Items, and disable anything suspicious, or at least disable the iSight camera (which I myself do not know how to do).

      Delete that iSight bundle in the mac. Can't remember where it is.
    1. KartRacer's Avatar
      KartRacer -
      Quote Originally Posted by DeltaFX View Post
      @ Kart Racer first of all if you read my posts you would see that I agree that the school was not supposed to do that, and it was unconstitutional. As far as our privacy goes, in regards to the government, national security usually comes at the cost of privacy. Since I dont break the law or do shameful things im willing to sacrifice some privacy for more security. Im not saying give up all your privacy, but seriously its people like you that throw hissy fits about "oh you cant tap these people's phone lines, what if theyre innocent"? people like you are the reason 9/11 happened because you restrain agencies like the FBI from gaining CRUCIAL intelligence.
      News flash, the FBI/NSA/CIA have been doing things like this for at least 60 years you moron. I haven't prevented them from doing anything, and you cannot cite one example that by violating my 4th Amendment right they've made us safer. On the contrary, they've made everyones lives even more insecure going around the world starting wars and getting thier noses in places it doesn't belong and made it more of a hassle for people 'that have nothing to hide and don't do shameful things' to go on about their lives. It's complete idiots like yourself that cause my civil liberties and my rights to be eroded. You are either very very naive, very very stupid, or brainwashed. I imagine someone like you is all three. Do this country a favor and don't excercise your right to vote, because you're ******* it up for the rest of us.

      Again, idiot, if you think that sacrificing rights for security, post your email address and password and banking information and password so we can check to see if you're not a terrorist. Put your money where your fat ignorant mouth is.

      YOU ARE AN IDIOT AND I HOPE YOU DON'T PROCREATE.
    1. siennal's Avatar
      siennal -
      My mon also spy me on my mac with parental control software.
    1. xerray's Avatar
      xerray -
      bla bla bla
    1. miaellis01's Avatar
      miaellis01 -
      "this is a private school. this has absolutely nothing to do with the government. ever seen a public school hand out macbooks?" are you freaking kidding me? im in 6th grade, and i have a macbook FROM SCHOOL. PUBLIC SCHOOL. and the highschoolers got them to. You are messed up dude.

      And no they dont "spy" on us. they spy on our screens with lanschool to make sure we are doing our work and not playing games during class.

      yeah my school got laptops. middle school. and so did the highschool.