What's Wrong with People? Part 2: Webcams

Peeping Toms?

Student Blake Robbins and his family are suing the Lower Merion School District (LMSD) in Pennsylvania for allegedly spying on him with the webcam in his school-provided laptop computer. The student claims a school official reprimanded him for improper behavior, using an image captured at his home on the laptop webcam.

Parents are outraged because the district never told them about the remote webcam access. A district spokesperson says these webcams have been activated to locate lost or stolen computers, but the district claims they never used the webcams to spy on students.

Neil and his daughter, Julie, 16, join Dr. Phil. Julie is a student at LMSD.

"I can't just be objective about this. This creeps me out," Dr. Phil says. "You've got a computer in your home that the school can flip a camera on at will and look at what's happening. How do you feel about this?" he asks Neil.


[AD]Neil explains his understanding is the webcams were used as a security device. "If someone is looking at my daughter while my daughter is getting undressed or something like that, that's a horrible thing. When you bring this security into the home, you are invading one's ultimate right to privacy. There's no question about that," he says.

Julie says she keeps the computer on her desk in her bedroom. "I do feel blessed that our district was able to give us laptops. I think it's benefitted every student. It makes work a lot easier. But at the same time, everyone has to question, ‘OK, they did this to one person; what could they do to others?'"

Ashleigh says she's troubled by this case. "We all, everyone in this room, everyone watching in America, you have a reasonable expectation of privacy," she says. "Because if you are in your bedroom, if you are in your house, if you are in a public bathroom, those are places where you have a reasonable expectation of privacy, and no one, for any reason, can open up a webcam on you that you don't know exists and take pictures. In this particular story, I understand what the school district's modus operandi might have been " they wanted to track down stolen laptops, they wanted to know where their digital equipment was " you can't do it this way. By the way, who is policing [the person] on the other button? You don't know who the teachers are who can access those capabilities."

[AD]"And that's my fear as well," Neil says. "I don't know." He says the webcam access on the computers has since been turned off and wonders why the school wouldn't use a different locating device other than a camera.

Julie says she put tape over her webcam, until she heard the devices were shut off.

"I still would," Ashleigh says. "You don't know about hacking capabilities. You don't know who can get access to the system."

Tom, 15, and Brady, 16, are both students at LMSD. They join the show via satellite from Philadelphia.

Tom says, "It's pretty clear mistakes have been made here, and there's definitely an infringement on people's privacy, but also, I think the proper way to deal with that is not through a class-action law suit."

Neil explains that the student who was allegedly spied on claims he was eating candy, but is being accused of taking pills.

"That bothers me," Dr. Phil says. "It was designed to locate it, and right away, we have an example where it isn't being used to locate; it's being used to identify potential misconduct by someone who had it."

Brady says, "I personally trust in my school district, so I'm certain they are not watching me when I'm at home or whatever the case may be."

"Tom, you say you don't really care of someone watches you shake your butt around?" Dr. Phil asks.

[AD]He laughs. "Yeah. There's kind of a great deal of fear and media hysteria that's surrounding this whole thing right now. I'm not really buying into that," he says. "There's no reason to be fearful. I don't believe the school district ever used it in a malicious way. And even if they did, I think we need to move on toward solving the problem instead of sort of crying about it."

Ashleigh points out that laws are different in each state, and this is a new frontier. "It is a frontier that needs to be examined, and I think when it comes to school districts, there need to be laws on the book preventing systems like this from being in place," she says.

Andreas is the IT manager for the Dr. Phil show. He explains what you may not know about the little camera in your laptop computer.

Could you be unknowingly spied on by your own webcam?

 

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