We all know how much information we can get from our computers and the internet. The new question is, do we have any idea how much information about us our computer is making available to those who are seeking it? What if your computer is turned into a spying machine and what it reports can be used against you in your employment, your school, or your social circles?
Blake Robbins, a 16 year old high school student in Lower Merion School District in Philadelphia, found out the hard way that even his eating habits in his own home could come under scrutiny via a webcam in his school-issued laptop. All 2300 students of the district have Macbooks provided by the school that they can use at home. A remote surveillance feature is included on the machines to track down ones that are reported stolen or missing. Over the past year, many students had reported the green LED light coming on at random times, indicating the webcam was enabled.
Robbins was called in to the vice principal’s office for “inappropriate behavior” in his home, which was purported to be popping drugs and possibly dealing. How was the evidence obtained? A photo of him came through the webcam to the school administration showing him holding up two pill-like objects which he consumed. Blake alleges that he was eating Mike and Ike’s candies. The Robbins family has filed a class action lawsuit against the school, and the FBI is investigating possible federal wiretap or computer-intrusion law violations.
This raises huge questions in my mind about the information access that could become available to government officials if homeschool students are enrolled in public school programs such as virtual academies.