Yes, a School Really Spied on Students via Webcam. At Home.

webcam spy

Education and the web. It seems like a thrilling pairing, giving technology the boost towards the education sector that it’s been needing for some time. Making that technology accessible when it comes to large scale implementation is typically where the plans catch a snag. That doesn’t appear to be the case with the Lower Merion School District in Philadelphia. The administration may have taken the adoption of technology too far, as it’s been caught spying on students through webcams. At home.

Even if I were an education authority figure spying on my students through the webcam my district provided for the school laptop, I wouldn’t admit to spying on them. The school-administrated software for the webcams was used to monitor students’ behavior in school and in their home environment. Few details have been released on the software agreement or its terms of use, but I’m pretty sure the intent of the webcams was not put forth by the school district as being used for ensuring that students were doing their homework.

Lower Merion is now facing a lawsuit due to its inappropriate behavior, after the school brought disciplinary action against a student for something he was doing at home. A photo taken with the webcam was used as evidence of his wrong-doing, alerting students and their parents as to the fact that the school was essentially spying on the kids.

So many issues here… where to start?

The fact that the education sector has a relationship with technology that’s worse than what we see with corporate America isn’t startling, but quite concerning as we look towards our future. We know that technology needs to be integrated into the education sector for aiding in the actual education process, as well as being taught as part of the curriculum to prepare students for the real world. But using it to spy on them?

As the education sector deals with impressionable children, the rules regarding how certain aspects of technology can be used as they relate to their schooling is a touchy subject. If the school provides things like laptops, does the school have full control over the machine, its software, and how it’s being used? Can the school monitor everything on the computer, from emails to click behavior?

If a certain activity such as social networking interferes with school work, should it be banned from school computers, or banned all together during school hours, regardless of how it’s accessed? Taking things a step further, should the school be able to relegate a student’s use of social networking when they’re at home? These are all real issues that school districts, parents and students have been hashing out for the past few years. Lower Merion just made matters worse.

Privacy issues are of major concern when it comes to certain technology and the ways in which it can be used. A school’s ability to take disciplinary actions for what a student does outside of school grounds and school hours is something that each district must address. But spying on the students and using that against them is an entirely new can of worms. Things aren’t looking good for the Philadelphia school district at all. Thanks for helping us to realize the best of our Big Brother fears.

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  1. Nick says

    Philadelphia has its own school district; Lower Merion School Distrcit is in Montgomery County, PA.

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