Monday, March 1, 2010

The Case of the "Lost" Laptop

The school district accused of spying on a student by remotely activating a school owned laptops camera has been ordered to cease the practice. It appears that both the media and the public are viewing the school officials as the bad guy in this instance. I tend to agree with that general opinion.

While there is a lot of unanswered questions and vagueness in the details, in an official statement the school district superintendant admitted that in instances where a laptop is reported missing or stolen, the school could turn on the camera remotely. In this case the camera recorded the student consuming what the officials identified as drugs. That was their version. The student claimed that he was eating candy drops that had the appearance of drugs. That’s his version. Is it the school's responsibility to police the student on his time in the evening at his parents home?

To me the real questions are these. If they where tracking a missing laptop, was this particular unit really missing? Did the student or his parents report it missing? Was the laptop overdue for return, and if so, was the family contacted first? If it wasn't missing, then why did the school administrator turn on the camera? That seems a violation of their stated policy.

OK, the school district is nervous and paranoid that a student may be trying to rip off their laptop. I understand that concern. But I would suggest that their established procedure to check out a laptop be revised. Since laptops might cost from $500 to $1000, the student’s parents should be made financially responsible for the loss if their child gets careless. A cash deposit and / or credit card should be presented for security before a computer can be checked out, just like any other rental programs. Anything is better than adopting a practice that could be misused by violating the right to privacy of the individual. And as far as I am concerned that is what is at issue here.

Maybe we should be able turn on the school administrators laptop cams remotely as well. It might be interesting to know what they do on their time. I would like to hear their thoughts on that suggestion.

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