Monday, February 22, 2010

"Paging Vice Principal B. Brother, please report to room 101"

Pennsylvania's Lower Merion School Board's efforts to give every one of its high school students a laptop computer are doubleplusgood!

A Lower Merion family has set off a furor among students, parents, and civil liberties groups by alleging that Harriton High School officials used a webcam on a school-issued laptop to spy on their 15-year-old son at home.
In a lawsuit filed Tuesday in federal court, the family said the school's assistant principal had confronted their son, told him he had "engaged in improper behavior in [his] home, and cited as evidence a photograph from the webcam embedded in [his] personal laptop issued by the school district."
The suit contends the Lower Merion School District, one of the most prosperous and highest-achieving in the state, had the ability to turn on students' webcams and illegally invade their privacy.

According to, which is all over the story, this would not only be possible, but easy for the school board to do. The feds have gotten involved and felt the accusations were credible enough that they have subpoenaed school board documents and are investigating.

Setting aside the technological issues involved here, I have to wonder why the school thinks it has the right to regulate what a student does at home. Frankly, it is none of the school's business whether the student was shooting heroin, having bondage sex with goats or reading Ayn Rand aloud to his hamster while wearing nothing but swim fins and bacon grease-- he wasn't on school property, it wasn't during a school-supervised activity and there is no accusation that he was using the school-owned computer for an inappropriate activity like hacking or say, oh I dunno...spying on school board officials or his vice-principal.

Whether they were conducting completely illegal surveillance of this kid is separate matter. It doesn't really matter whether the information about the kid's activities outside school comes from a hidden camera, a nosy teacher or another student who is ratting him out - if it doesn't happen at school and it doesn't involve child abuse or a murder plot, it is none of the school's damned business what kid is doing and they have no right to discipline him for things that are not related to school.

As for the spying, where to start? If the school is doing this, it is so obviously, clearly wrong I can't imagine the kind of authoritarian protofascist numbskulls that are in charge and would sign off on this kind of program. A whole bunch of people should not only lose their jobs, but should end up in jail. Even prison inmates aren't under hidden video surveillance.

And just as an observation on the tendency of school administration not to pay much attention to things they are trying to teach in the classroom; While Orwell's "1984" was taught as part of the English curriculum and required reading for the students, clearly the officials either hadn't read it or had a sick sense of humor. The detention room at both my old high school in Ancaster, Ontario and the one attended by several friends in Sault Ste. Marie was room No. 101.

Crossposted from The Woodshed, where we also have the King of Morningside interviewing the High Priest of Gonzo.

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