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Is a Philly School District Spying on Its Students?

Boing Boing is following a story out of the tony Philadelphia suburb of Lower Merion, where the parents of Blake Robbins, a sophomore at Harriton...


Boing Boing is following a story out of the tony Philadelphia suburb of Lower Merion, where the parents of Blake Robbins, a sophomore at Harriton Senior High School, are suing the school district for behavior that's straight out of an as-yet-unwritten screenplay for a dystopian, Orwellian movie.

The district has a program where each student is issued a laptop when they matriculate to high school. These laptops come with webcams and a piece of software that could be remotely activated to allow the district to see a stream of video taken by it-or, in other words, spying on its students (at least in theory). Apparently the vice principal at Harriton punished Robbins for "improper behavior"-which the administrator found out about via the webcam.

According to a letter written by the district's superintendent, the software is for tracking stolen laptops only. The feature has been disabled in the wake of the Robbins' lawsuit.

Boing Boing's Cory Doctorow sums up how grotesque this incident is better than I could:
If true, these allegations are about as creepy as they come. I don't know about you, but I often have the laptop in the room while I'm getting dressed, having private discussions with my family, and so on. The idea that a school district would not only spy on its students' clickstreams and emails (bad enough), but also use these machines as AV bugs is purely horrifying.

Photo (cc) from Flickr user jima.

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