>George Orwell could only have imagined the kinds of technology we see today. In his 1984, Big Brother was always watching. The main character had to go into a corner to write in his journal, knowing he’d be seen and his words read otherwise. In 1984‘s Utopian nation, there was no expectation of privacy.
So when a high school in Pennsylvania checked out laptop computers to students, who would have thought the webcams could and would be used to watch the students? Computers that are part of a network can be monitored; it’s part of the way systems are designed. The school district’s laptops could be tracked if stolen or lost, and that was the excuse used for activating the webcams in the first place. But when a student was disciplined for inappropriate behavior that had nothing to do with computer use, families in the district hit the roof.
The student in question was accused of “improper behavior in his home.” The administrator accused him of taking pills; the “pills” turned out to be Mike & Ike candies. After viewing this behavior through the webcam, the administrator placed a disciplinary write-up in the student’s permanent file.
If the student had used the school-owned laptop to browse porn sites or shop for alcohol, for example, that could have warranted an investigation for policy violation. If the computer had been lost or stolen, the webcam could have tracked its location. In fact, according to the district, that’s the only reason they would activate the webcams.
So…what’s up, administration? When students took the laptops home, did they know the webcams could be used to watch them? Did the parents (and the adult students, over 18) know that and sign a release permitting the act? A laptop in a home is not like a FaceBook page, put out on the Internet for the masses to see. Students can be disciplined for illegal behavior discovered via FaceBook photos – and have been in many districts nationwide. But spying on individuals’ behavior in their homes through a laptop computer is a major misuse of technology.
As my friend Liberty Rose has pondered, do professionals lose IQ points and the ability to reason when they become school administrators? The shocking incident in Lower Merion, PA, would support her theory.