every breath you take

18 Feb

When I read stories like this, I’m really rather discouraged with the state this country finds itself in. Are we so concerned with security from nebulous threats that we’re willing to give up basic privacy and flagrantly violate the privacy of others?

For those too lazy to click the link, it’s a story about a school district issuing laptop computers to students (an increasingly common occurence, and not necessarily a bad one, in my opinion), then using the onboard webcams to spy on students, both at school and elsewhere, and subsequently punishing a student for something “innappropriate” (I’m guessing it involved nakedness) at home, offering spycam pics as evidence.

While I perhaps understand the motivation behind certain security measures being installed on institutionally-issued computer hardware for network security and usability concerns (I’m sure the kids don’t have admin rights on the box to install things, for example, and I expect a certain level of filtering to prevent exposure to viruses and “objectionable material”, whatever that might be), but using integrated cameras for surveillance is over the line in my opinion.

Kids will be kids; you expect a certain amount of non-sactioned use with regard to school equipment; some are going to push boundaries and engage in teenage tomfoolery. That’s what the filters and locked-down user accounts are for. It’s no business of the school administration what the kid does at home; that’s strictly the purvue of parents.

Look at it this way: suppose my kid (or yours) was in the middle of doing her homework in her room and took a break to change clothes in view of the open machine? The school does not have any need to have potential access to that.

For my part, if a school ever issues this kind of hardware* to my kid, regardless of the level of security installed, the kid is immediately getting three things from me:

  1. A thorough explanation of what kind of security measures the school’s likely going to be using, and an admonition that Big Brother is watching, and that the best thing would be to not use the equipment for unauthorized purposes

  2. A roll of black electrical tape to cover any integrated lenses

  3. A current copy of the knoppix live cd for emergencies, because occasionally, the responsible thing is going to conflict with the school’s “err on the side of caution” policy, though if this option gets used, there better be a damned good reason.


To me, that’s the only responsible parent thing to do.

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* – keeping in mind that my kids have access to their own personal computers at home, access to which (as well as activity on) is monitored by me. I understand that not everyone is going to have these advantages.

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