Friday, May 14, 2010

Lower Merion School District Laptop Surviellance

In recent news regarding the high school laptop surveillance case in suburban Philadelphia, the school has hired a law firm and a computer forensics company to investigate the policies of the school district with respect to the surveillance capabilities of the school issued laptops.

From the Philadelphia Daily News:

The long-awaited report, conducted by the Ballard Spahr law firm and a computer-forensics company, was released last night after investigators reviewed about 500,000 pages of documents and interviewed 42 witnesses, in addition to the data collected by Lower Merion's laptop-tracking software.

Investigators retrieved from the district's databases nearly 58,000 webcam photos and screenshots, many of which were captured by laptops that had been found after having been reported stolen or missing.

From the Philadelphia Inquirer:

The report, released Monday night, found that the software activated by the district in the last two years captured nearly 58,000 images, mostly from lost or stolen laptops.

But because employees frequently failed to turn off the tracking system, more than 50,000 of those images were taken after the computers had been recovered and given back to students.

So, apparently the surveillance technology was often deployed when a laptop was reported lost or stolen, but then not turned off once the laptop was recovered. This is one of many unanswered questions - Why was the surveillance kept up when laptops were returned or recovered?

It's also important to note that this investigation report was prepared by the law firm that the school district has hired to defend it in the lawsuit:

Though billed as an independent investigation, the report was prepared by lawyers from Ballard Spahr, the law firm the district has hired to defend it in the lawsuit filed by Harriton sophomore Blake Robbins and his parents.
There are other questions left unanswered by the report:

According to the report, Robbins borrowed a laptop from the school last October because the one he had been issued was damaged. A technician turned on his Web cam after officials realized he had taken the loaner computer off-campus - and that he had not paid the $55 insurance fee required of every student.

But investigators said they had conflicting accounts from assistant principal Lindy Matkso and technician Kyle O'Brien about who ordered the activation and why.

They kept tracking Robbins' laptop even after one technician e-mailed O'Brien to say that the laptop had been located. The teen's computer was "currently online at home," the e-mail said...

The Philly Daily News also notes:

O'Brien, the district technician, has testified that Harriton High Assistant Principal Lindy Matsko had told him to activate the tracking on Robbins' computer, but Matsko testified that she never gave that order, according to the report.
The full text of the report is posted at the school district website here.

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