School Used Student Webcams to Spy on Them

Ever have the feeling that you're being watched? With built-in webcams now bring standard on most laptops, sitting there, staring straight at you opposite the LCD screen, one might feel paranoid about voyeurs.

Such fears may not be completely irrational, however, as a student is suing his school in Philadelphia for remotely activating his webcam, reported Boing Boing. The remote activation of his webcam was exposed when student Blake J. Robbins was disciplined for "improper behavior in his home" by the Vice Principal, who provided a photo taken by the webcam as evidence.

Gizmodo supposedly heard from some of the students involved in the class action suit. One said that his 2008 MacBook's camera light would turn on at random.

Frequently, the green lights next to our iSight webcams will turn on. The school district claims that this is just a glitch. We are all doubting this now.

Another student added:

I questioned the IT guy about why it was happening he said that it was because people logged out when an application using the camera was on, he also stated that they could in fact go and look through your webcam it would just violate the fifth [amendment] and that's why they didn't.

More as it happens.

Marcus Yam is a technology evangelist for Intel Corporation, the latest in a long line of tech-focused roles spanning a more than 20-year career in the industry. As Executive Editor, News on Tom's Guide and Tom's Hardware, Marcus was responsible for shaping the sites' news output, and he also spent a period as Editor of Outdoors & Sports at Digital Trends.

  • dj1001
    if that was me i would just put a piece of tap over the camera
  • JasonAkkerman
    fifth ammendment .... Amendment
    Looks like someone needs to go back to school and pay more attention in English and Government classes.
  • What right does a Vice P. have to discipline someone for something that they did in THEIR OWN HOME? Not to mention all the privacy laws that are being broken. The people responsible for this better get jailed for a long time. Throw in child porn charges while you're at it 'cause for all we know, they were watching them while they changed in their rooms.
    Get a Desktop. Unplug your webcam unless you're using it. Problem solved.
  • TheDuke
    you would think that teachers would understand the constitution
  • astrodudepsu
    I'm confused. Did this kid take a school laptop home? And then the school activated the webcam while this kid was at home? If so, that's insane.

    Even if the kid was at school when the school turned on the webcam it's still crazy.
  • reconspartan
    This is redonkulous. I'm curious as to what the kid did. At any rate, someone is probably going to do some time.
  • nforce4max
    It does not matter what the student does in his spare time that isn't the point would you parents be comfortable with your employers spying on you during your intimate time no is your answer. Schools need to learn what goes on at home and on the street stays there till the student or parent makes the decision to make it so.
  • thedreadfather
    I understand the purpose of surveillance software on school computers. Ever been in a school computer lab? Kids are usually not on-task (playing Flash games, or what-have-you).

    That being said, there is no need for software that remotely accesses the audio/visual equipment in the computer and no need for the software to be used out of school. I wholly support the plaintiff in this case and I hope it sets a precedent for schools everywhere.

    Marcus, could you do a follow-up whenever this gets settled? Thanks.
  • tikrjee
    Whatever happened to good ol' firewalls and whitelists?
    You ask me, there's a pedo or two working at that school. You know it's true.