Alexandria Online

Friday, February 19, 2010

"Pennsylvania: Schools Accused of Spying" -- NYT

Yes, my very own Lower Merion School District was accused today of spying on students using the webcams built into the laptops that they distributed to every student. (See "Pennsylvania: Schools Accused of Spying" in the New York Times.)  It's going to be important to watch this. People see a laptop as a personal device, not as company-issued equipment. This case overturns that perception. That laptop has an operating system and other software on it that is licensed to and configured by Lower Merion. My tax dollars paid for those licenses. To some extent, Lower Merion answers to me and the other parents who send their kids to school here. If that machine is used for nefarious or unseemly purposes, that's a problem for Lower Merion. The district must filter web use on that machine, protect it from viruses, and attempt to make sure that the contents of the hard drive are legal and appropriate. They must also attempt to protect the privacy of the child who is using that laptop. One-to-one laptop programs, such as the one that this case involves, must not be seen as give-aways, but rather as contracts between schools and families. A laptop has much more potential for good and for harm than state-issued textbooks.

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