School Administrator Boasts to PBS About His Laptop Spying

From Cory Doctorow at BoingBoing:

Scott sez,

A few weeks ago, Frontline premiered a documentary called “Digital Nation”. In one segment, the vice-principle of Intermediate School 339, Bronx, NY, Dan Ackerman, demonstrates how he “remotely monitors” the students’ laptops for “inappropriate use”. (his demonstration begins at 4:36)


He says “They don’t even realize we are watching,” “I always like to mess with them and take a picture,” and “9 times out of 10, THEY DUCK OUT OF THE WAY.”

He says the students “use it like it’s a mirror” and he watches. He says 6th and 7th graders have their cameras activated. It looks like the same software used by the Pennsylvania school that is being investigated for covertly spying on students through their webcams.

The shocking thing about this is that the privacy concerns were not even mentioned in the Frontline documentary!

Read More: BoingBoing

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  • emperorreagan

    I spent a lot of time with school counselors over my stories & drawings, as well as being banned from accessing the internet at school.

    I can't begin to imagine what sort of trouble I would have been if they had been able to monitor my internet & other computer related activities at home.

  • DD

    If you don't work in the school system I could see how this would be troublesome to people on the outside. I work with kids age 7-14 in a computer lab M-F. You would be surprised what kids try to get into (Inter-species pornography, building bombs, etc.) on their own. If you work in the school system and you are not monitoring what children (not adults) are doing, you are held responsible when bad things that happen. Technology in the classroom is a privilege, not a necessity. This is the same as a locker search, checking the bathrooms to see if kids are smoking weed between classes, etc. If we give kids the keys to all the world's knowledge good and bad we need to do it responsibly. I don't this should be turned into a privacy violation issue.

  • nemoide

    IMO if the school is providing these computers for kids, which don't seem to ever leave school premises, there's nothing wrong with it. Especially since the students are clearly aware that they can be monitored (if he's leaving messages telling them to get to work). And it looks like if the student does not have the camera program active, the “spy” could not see what the camera would see.

    Maybe it's a bit sucky but not as big a deal as having the hidden cameras, guards, ridiculous zero-tolerance policies etc, that have been commonplace in the post-Columbine world.

  • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/PDDVWRQVUPMKRGHURIEQVNYWHQ Sean

    it is perfectly reasonable if the monitoring is on equipment on school grounds,
    you have no reason to expect privacy at school, if machines the children use are outside school
    and usable for non school related things monitoring them would be a huge invasion of privacy.

  • 5by5

    “I always like to mess with them”?

    Fire that fuck immediately. He's got the SysAdmin god complex.

    That kind of thinking has NOTHING to do with rationally blocking things like porn sites. That's just a guy jacked up on his own power.

    And sorry, you DO have a reason to expect “privacy in your papers” (even if they're digital papers) because of a little thing we like to call the Constitution.

    It never ceases to amaze me how willingly people will sacrifice rights that people have literally BLED for you to enjoy, simply because it's in a digital context as opposed to an analog one. Daft. Really DAFT.

    • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/PDDVWRQVUPMKRGHURIEQVNYWHQ Sean

      i doubt you could make that work if it were school property using school resources,
      anybody who does personal business on a public machine is too stupid to have any rights

  • GoodDoktorBad

    If you treat students like inmates, its becomes more likely that they will begin to behave like inmates. The more they “crack down”, the more students “crack up”….
    While the “peace of the gun (or the camera) may prevail for a while, it ultimatly forces kids to be more cleverly discreet (and dishonest), thereby causing a wider generation gap, separaton from and mistrust of authority, and higher likelyhood of trouble at school becoming extreme.
    If you draw too many lines in the dirt, the “cattle” can't help but stumble and sometimes stampede across them. Kids need room to stumbe around and make alot of mistakes. There is no learning at all without mistakes. Watching and controlling there movement so much inhibits maturity. Trial and error is the only true teacher. We learn more from the experience of falling out of a tree, than we learn from being told never to climb it.

    • Chris

      I would like to contribute to the kids' ability to be more discreet by suggesting to any one of them who may be reading this comment to cover up the webcam on their school-issued laptop with a band-aid.

      I might have to go further though, and suggest that the more tech-savvy kids who are reading this comment go to ubuntu.com and use that to replace the OS on their school-issued laptop in a move that will wipe out all of the spyware once and for all.

      A draconian authoritarian environment is a breeding ground for subversion and it makes my heart sing whenever such subversion is successfully bred.

  • tonyviner

    Welcome to the future that we knew was coming all along.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Wrenja-Czaczkes/100000276829636 Wrenja Czaczkes

    oh ffs. The school is PROVIDING the computers, they have every right to evaluate how they are being used. That is the school district's property, not the child's, not the parent's. I don't doubt they made them sign some kind of agreement before handing over the laptops. Don't sit here and cry about how rights are being violated. If this were property that was private, and not provided by the school, it would be a privacy issue. But it's not. Stop summoning up the constitution like it has a place in this situation, because it doesn't.

    • Chris

      So, in other words, if a teen has a school-issued laptop in his bedroom with the door closed, and he's doing the sorts of things that teens do in their bedrooms with the door closed, some perverted school admin has the right to spy on him with the webcam?

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Wrenja-Czaczkes/100000276829636 Wrenja Czaczkes

        The comment was in regards to the video above, not the article about the administrator taking advantage of their power in another article. But, really, the fact that it's just a stupid idea to do things like that with a school issued computer in the first place, doesn't justify them using these tools outside of the school environment. That said, they have every right to monitor what their students are doing during school hours on/with school property.

    • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/PDDVWRQVUPMKRGHURIEQVNYWHQ Sean

      pretty stupid and risky way to evaluate use,
      if the cam did see something sexual in nature or nudity that could open up the floodgates of litigation,
      some sort of gps and web activity monitoring software would be much more effective.
      I think whatever they want to do would be legal on school grounds but once it is inside a students living quarters things get a lot more tricky

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Wrenja-Czaczkes/100000276829636 Wrenja Czaczkes

    The comment was in regards to the video above, not the article about the administrator taking advantage of their power in another article. But, really, the fact that it’s just a stupid idea to do things like that with a school issued computer in the first place, doesn’t justify them using these tools outside of the school environment. That said, they have every right to monitor what their students are doing during school hours on/with school property.

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