"I was spied on by the Lower Merion School District, and all I got was this lousy t-shirt."
That's what students at Pennsylvania's Harriton High School should be saying after news that webcams on their assigned laptops were covertly activated by school administrators to spy on students.
Spying on students at school is bad enough, but intentionally installing webcam software that can be activated while the student is at home takes the arrogance of a petty tyrant.
You can read the class action complaint here. It alleges that the district was able "to view and capture whatever images were in front of the webcam, all without the knowledge, permission or authorization of any persons then and there using the laptop computer."
The district says they only installed the software to track stolen laptops. But I'm skeptical of their intentions and their intelligence. Why did they turn around and stupidly use the captured images to discipline a student for improper behavior in his home? Did anybody in the school district look into wiretapping laws? And did anybody in the school district raise concerns about possible accusations of trafficking in child pornography?
I also wonder what the students are learning from this. Are they growing to accept a surveillance state like the Chinese? Or maybe they're becoming more subversive? Hey kids, a low-tech solution like a scrap of tape or a band-aid is all you need to block the camera.
Or maybe they'll become Luddites? Old-fashioned books never spied on anybody.
I always thought there was something creepy about my own webcam sitting on top of my stack of desk junk. I was so disturbed by that dark glassy lens staring back at me that I put a little Post-It note over the thing until one day the round little eyeball rolled off my desk like the meatball in that old song, and I've left it face-down on the floor to gather dust.