Apparently, if you spy on students through webcams in computers you gave them for a supposedly academic purpose, then snap thousands of pictures of teens sleeping and even partially undressed, it’ll only cost you a relatively minor $610,000 with about 70% of that sum being spent on legal fees. For a school district that can afford to give its students laptops, this must be a bargain if you don’t count the lawyers gorging themselves in the process. I mean it’s one thing if students were trying to use school property to download porn, or hack into the school’s system to change their grades, but to simply spy on them? That’s not just ridiculous but obscene from a legal and ethical standpoint. Instead of a slap on the wrist, the administrators should’ve been fired. It’s not like invasion of privacy and pervy snapshots of minors aren’t criminal offenses worthy of serious note and could just be waived off if someone says he really didn’t mean to take all those pictures for anything illegal.
But that’s apparently the decision in a lawsuit involving Harrington High School in Pennsylvania, which began when a student was sternly warned by an assistant principal to stop “improper behavior in his bedroom.” The behavior in question was snapped by a spy cam in his computer, one of the over 66,000 pictures of students taken by administrators who claimed that they only activated the cams when a computer was reported stolen or missing, and that the cams were just part of an anti-theft system. Yeah. Makes perfect sense. This certainly explains why the system was used tens of thousands of times to capture students eating candy, or changing their clothes, or sleeping. Surely, if we start digging deep enough, we’ll find a missing or stolen report for just about each and every picture snapped, including the hundreds of the same exact student right? Oh, wait. No, no we won’t because the school just decided it would take pictures on a whim and can’t provide any reasons for doing what it did, even though according to the FBI, they had no criminal intent per se.
I don’t really care about intent in this situation because there’s absolutely no reasonable justification for taking so many inappropriate pictures of minors. What kind of bonehead in the school’s administration could’ve ever possibly thought this was a good idea and why does he or she still have a job instead of facing jail time? Let’s imagine that a manager in a computer repair store installs this kind of software in minors’ laptops and snaps more than 66,000 photos of them, a number of which could be considered borderline child porn. You can bet that he’d be thrown in prison so fast, he’d need medical attention from the friction burns on his posterior after corrections officers hurl him into his cell. The administrators? Declared immune from prosecution after doing almost exactly that and continuing to draw their typical six-figure taxpayer-funded salaries. The parents should be outraged, which I’m sure that many of them are, and demand that heads roll as they keep bombarding the district’s superintendent with call after call on the subject. Really, I can’t understate just how insipid and illegal the administrators’ actions were, and how there’s no excuse for them being immune from prosecution.
Hey, at least they stopped taking secret pictures of students when the media got wind of what they were doing and the lawsuit landed on a judge’s desk so at least they do have enough brainpower to realize they what they did was wrong and if they stood their ground they’d be in even more trouble than they thought they’d be. And at the same time, this fact also shows that they don’t seem to have enough of a moral or ethical compass to get the idea that spying on students in their own homes is illegal and wrong. How people like this are ever put in charge of thousands of teenagers, and who lets them stay there despite their imbecilic decisions, I don’t even want to know. But what I, and I’m sure many others, would really want is to see these people as far away from any position of power in any school system as humanly possible.
[ illustration by Ian Jones ]