When the state — and its politicians — give you something, they generally want something in return. They want your vote. They want your obedience. They want your dependence, preferably dependence that will stretch out to multiple generations. And, occasionally, they want to know things they have no damned business knowing.
There ain't no such thing as a free lunch. That's what Blake J. Robbins learned. See, Blake is a student in the Lower Merion School District in Pennsylvania. Blake's high school has some bucks. They had the resources to issue free laptops to high school students. What a great opportunity, right? What a fantastic resource for learning! What could possibly go wrong? What could Lower Merion School District have wanted in return?
Well, according to Blake and his family, in return the district wanted to watch him on a webcam in his own home. According to Blake's lawsuit, school administrators didn't tell him that they had the ability – and the intention — of activating the webcam and checking out Blake's out-of-school activities without his knowledge or consent — or the knowledge and consent of his parents, into whose home Blake brought the laptop. This came to light when Assistant Principal Lindy Matsko accused Blake of "improper conduct" in his home based on a webcam photo taken remotely by school authorities using his laptop. Blake's family's lawsuit is available in pdf form through the BoingBoing link above.
Now, we don't have the response of the school or the district yet. But if Blake's allegations are true — that school administrators were activating webcams remotely to observe students without their knowledge or consent, or the knowledge or consent of their parents — then the district, and some of its administrators, are in a world of hurt. In addition to the civil violations set forth in Blake's complaint, such conduct is almost certainly criminal. Hopefully Blake's family will refer the matter to the U.S. Attorney's Office for their district. If school administrators sent home laptops and then spied on kids, someone — probably several people — should be going to jail. If they captured or observed kids in any state of undress, some of them need to wind up as registered sex offenders.
If this went down the way Blake claims, the stupidity of the Lower Merion School District officials is breathtaking. That they thought they could do this legally – and that they thought it was a good idea to blithely begin to discipline kids for conduct observed secretly in their homes — speaks volumes of the entrenched cretinism in modern American academia. But the entitlement isn't breathtaking. It's perfectly ordinary. When the government and its officials give you something, they always expect something in return. Sometimes that something is your privacy. That's the way it works.
Update: The school district is claiming that it only activates the remote system to find a laptop that has been reported lost or stolen. If that's the case — if Blake had someone else's laptop, and was only recorded because that someone else reported the laptop lost or stolen — it's obviously a very, very different case.
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