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FBI, US Attorney Probing Penn. School District's Computer Spying

HeadlinesFeb 24, 2010

In Pennsylvania, audio footage has surfaced of a computer technician discussing the software used by a suburban Philadelphia school district to switch on laptop computer cameras inside students’ homes. The Lower Merion School District issued Apple laptops with webcams to all 2,300 students at its two high schools, but students were never informed the school had the ability to remotely activate the laptop cameras. School officials say the cameras were only remotely activated to find missing or stolen laptops. In an audio recording apparently intended for other software technicians, school district employee Mike Perbix discusses how the technology works.

Mike Perbix: "As soon as the computer gets put on a network outside your home network, the heartbeat tries to come into your existing LANrev server. And once it establishes that connection, it gets told, hey, computer tracking is turned on. And then that computer will start sending back, at regular intervals, will start sending back screen shots. And if you have a built-in iSight camera, it will start sending in camera shots."

Perbix went on to praise the software’s use in monitoring students.

Mike Perbix: "It’s an excellent feature. Yes, we have used it, and yes, it has gleaned some results for us. But it, in and of itself, is just a fantastic feature for trying to — especially when you’re in a school environment and you have a lot of laptops and you’re worried about, you know, laptops getting up and missing. I’ve actually had some laptops we thought were stolen which actually were still in a classroom, because they were misplaced, and by the time we found out they were back, I had to turn the tracking off. And I had, you know, a good twenty snapshots of the teacher and students using the machines in the classroom."

The family of a student targeted by the monitoring has filed a federal lawsuit against the Lower Merion district. Both the FBI and the US Attorney’s Office for eastern Pennsylvania say they’re investigating.

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