Welcome to George Orwell High School

There's a story breaking about a boy in the Lower Merion School District of Ardmore, PA who was busted for "improper behavior". What is making this story so exceptional (and frightening) is how, apparently, this behavior was discovered. In this school district, students are issued Macintosh laptops, which, as one might expect, are installed with various lockdowns and security software in place. However, it seems, part of this "security software" includes the ability for the school to remotely activate the laptops' built-in webcam; and the student's "improper behavior" was caught on this camera in his own home.

The school has come out and said the camera is only activated in situations when the laptop is considered "stolen", except they have not indicated that this was one of those situations. This seems clearly a case of a school violating students' privacy and grossly overreaching their bounds by policing kids in their own homes. It already has the interest of the FBI, who are investigating the school, which has already backed off on their supposedly-benign security policy.

The more that comes out on the story, the worse the school sounds, too. It seems that the "inappropriate behavior" that was "caught" by the webcam was the student eating candy. At home. Busted because the candy "looks like" drugs when viewed over a shot over a surreptitiously-controlled webcam.

The software itself, which is analyzed in this Stryde Hax blog post plus a link to a hands-on with an actual Lower Marion laptop on the Save Ardmore Coalition blog, is pretty scary. Besides its constant "phoning home" with location and pictures, there's apparently a lot of insecurities in the way it runs (rather ironic for a supposed "security" program).

I can only say that any equipment that my children are issued by our schools (which aren't giving laptops away yet), I will be analyzing closely. Not only will I be monitoring my network, but cameras and microphones will be covered with an adequate supply of electrical tape.

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