Quickies

Skepchick Quickies 2.19

Amanda

Amanda is a science grad student in Boston whose favorite pastimes are having friendly debates and running amok.

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57 Comments

  1. While I don’t wish to get overly political, I think it is entirely fair to point out that if the “minority must be tolerant of the majority” is true, then they should stop obstructing the Senate. That’s pretty much all I have to say on the subject, so let’s move on to Skeptical concerns.

    Seriously, people thought bras caused cancer? Evil Flying Jesus, that’s weird!

  2. I don’t agree with schools spying on the children after the end of the school day. That be really, really creepy. But when they are in school, I believe the legal precedent is on the administration’s side. Besides, these are school-issued laptops, not machines owed by the students themselves.

  3. @scribe999: Yes, in school — that’s fine. But that’s not the point. The point is that the student was punished for doing something “wrong” while he was at home.

    I don’t care if they are school-issued, they should not be used to spy on the children when they children are at home. Period.

    What if the laptops are in their bedrooms?

    Hell, I don’t care if the laptops are in the living room. It’s not right. It’s creepy. And crosses a HUGE line.

  4. OK, I want serval kittens in my life NOW. Servals and ocelots, please.

    I realize they will only grow up to tear me apart and eat me alive, but I think we can all agree that this is a minor problem at best, and well worth it in the long run.

  5. @Displaced Northerner:

    I’d like to say I’m surprised at the denial of wrongdoing, but I’m not.

    You just need to look at the Savana Redding case, or any of the recent incidents where schools suspended (or tried to) students for having 2″ lego guns (9 y/o) or wanting to eat lunch with their camping knives (6 y/o) or keeping a pocket knife given to you by your Police Chief Grandfather in your locked car. (17 y/o honor student)

    It makes me glad my husband and I aren’t having kids. I wouldn’t want them subjected to this level of idiocy. Granted, it’s good preparation for the workforce down the line, but still…

  6. @marilove:
    Yes, I read the article and the PDF of the court filing. I don’t object to the lawsuit. I think the family should win and be awarded substantial punitive damages. Let me clearly state: the school spying on the student at HOME was engaging in a criminal act.

    However, what I was merely commenting on was regardless of the details, the author of the Boing Boing article was not sufficiently delineating between that act and the act of surveilling the usage of laptops during school hours, particularly in the headline AND the concluding paragraph:

    “But when schools take that personal information, indiscriminately invading privacy (and, of course, punishing students who use proxies and other privacy tools to avoid official surveillance), they send a much more powerful message: your privacy is worthless and you shouldn’t try to protect it. ”

    Students already have their privacy circumscribed plenty when they are in a public school. Random locker checks, metal detectors and bag checks have all been upheld by the Supreme Court. Schools have been using webcams to watch their students during school hours for some time now. I disagree with the article when it makes a blanket statement about NOT punishing students “who use proxies and other privacy tools to avoid official surveillance”, at least during school time.

  7. @Displaced Northerner: I’m not. A lot of school administrators think they have a right to have complete control over their students.

    A lot of school administrators are also bullies. I was bullied a lot as a child by other students, and you wouldn’t believe how often it was ignored by teachers/administrators, and quite often encouraged.

    (Note: Not all. I’ve known some wonderful teachers/administrators in my time. But just like “bad cops”, the bad ones drown out the good ones.)

  8. @marilove: I suppose we’ll just have to disagree on the interpretation of the article. And no, I don’t think kids should be watched like they’re prisoners in some panopticon, but while using a relatively expensive device meant for school work , the school has every right to make sure students aren’t doing something foolish like downloading illegal or illicit content, breaking security or just plain breaking the laptop itself. Just like at work, where there is an expectation that I not be on my company issued laptop checking Skepchick.org all day…oh crap.

  9. @scribe999: You don’t need to watch them via camera to make sure they aren’t doing things like that, you know.

    Would you like to be watched via video camera ALL DAY while at work? Of course, I kind of am — there are security cameras all over the building I work at. BUT, I’m confident that I’m not being watched all the time (I work in a small building and know my superiors quite well). If I were, I probably wouldn’t want to work here anymore.

    There’s a difference between taking measures to keep kids safe, and to make sure they aren’t doing anything dumb, and having security cameras available to view when needed … and basically spying on the kids all the time.

  10. @marilove: When the laptop is off, they are not being surveilled…because what is being surveilled is the laptop, not the kid. The camera isn’t watching them when the notebook is closed or not pointed at them…which is actually better than having stationary cameras everywhere I should think. And even when the laptop cameras are on, there isn’t a one-to-one monitoring ratio anyway. It’s more like what goes on at your job or mine…an administrator or teacher does spot checks, as they would in real life anyway (I watched a report on one of these schools recently). If they go so far as to watch every single child every single minute, laptop camera or no, then they’re wasting a great deal of time and resources. And if they decide to follow students home, that’s just criminal.

  11. @scribe999:

    I think it makes me so uncomfortable that they are viewing the webcams at school because, clearly, if you give them an inch, they’ll go the entire mile. This isn’t the first case that school administrators have abused their power.

    The fact that they can view what the students do via cam at all means that someone will likely abuse that power and watch them when they aren’t even on school property.

    And they’ve done that.

    And I’m not at all surprised. Not even a little.

  12. I’m wondering why would these laptops have cameras to begin with. I get the whole monitoring what the students are doing on their computer thing. Dammit, I work in a call centre and I’m well aware that whatever I’m doing on the computer can be monitored at any given time. It sucks, but I get that. It’s not my property and it’s not my internet connection. The company wants to know how I use their asset.
    But cameras on laptops to spy on kids when they are home?!? Two words come to my mind: child pornography? It’s scary crasy.
    I mean, as I’m typing this, I’m on my laptop wearing only a braw while sipping a cup of hot chocolate.
    What was that poor kid doing that was so wrong that school confronted his parents with a picture, I wonder!!

  13. @Izzy: Most laptops now come with webcams. It’s pretty standard nowadays and doesn’t tend to be optional. It’s a neat feature, I think.

    However, the function should be removed for school laptops, because clearly they are being abused (and not by the students!). I know I can remove mine, by taking out the drivers and such. Then it’s just a camera lense that doesn’t work.

    In my opinion, the function should be turned off, by removing the drivers, so that NO one can use or view the cameras.

    It wouldn’t bother me if the laptops stayed on school property, but they don’t — they are allowed to be taken home. And clearly, the adults are abusing the cam functionality more than the students are! IRONIC! Don’t we take away things from children who can’t handle the responsibility?

    Also, it really doesn’t matter what the kid was doing, since he wasn’t on school property. What students do at home is, for the most part, not the business of the school administrators.

  14. Here’s another thought:

    These laptops have programs that specifically allow school administrators to activate webcams remotely.

    Let’s reword that sentence to be more accurate:

    The laptops have programs that specifically allow school administrators (or anyone who can hack what is likely a relatively unsophisticated program with a few common passwords) to activate and view the webcams remotely.

    Forget for a moment that what the school administrators did was creepy, wrong, and probably illegal. They are also opening up these students to being viewed by anyone with a bit of computer knowledge and a will to do so.

  15. Public schools really are getting more and more like prisons it feels. Let’s just get the kids in and out and hope that no one kills anyone or gets anyone preggers… I noticed it while i was in school, as i got older. Even stupid simple things like the fact that every new building was painted a very institutional grey, no more color allowed. it was weird
    any who i am really GLAD no one sent in cute animal friday links this week, those carnivorous plant pictures are STUNNING!

  16. @Zapski: No, see the majority being tolerant of the minority only counts when the Republicans are the minority. The Democrats obviously have nothing to contribute and must be ignored as our Great Leaders in the Republican party run the country.

  17. @marilove:
    “And clearly, the adults are abusing the cam functionality more than the students are! ” …c’mon, that’s just an assertion. Where’s the evidence for what students are or aren’t doing with those cameras. Just watching (and yes, this is entirely anecdotal) a tv report on one of these 1:1 schools, students were constantly using the camera to communicate with each other students during classtime and check makeup. Cameras also captured them distracted on other non computer items…like their mobile devices. Now, the teacher didn’t interrupt and punish each of these kids because that would be like bailing out the ocean, but every now and then they would get the kids attention to get them to focus on the task at hand again. Maybe you’re still right, but I don’t see any evidence about who abuses what more.

    BTW, being that ‘sexting’ with webcams and mobile devices between minors is on the rise and the more law enforcement officials are prosecuting such incidents AND they are holding parents who may know or have reasonable expectation to know that such a thing is going on, it’s probably scaring school administrations not a little that they could be held liable next.

    I agree though that they should just steer clear of this legal mess and keep the laptops in the building.

  18. The issue came to light when the Robbins’s child was disciplined for “improper behavior in his home” and the Vice Principal used a photo taken by the webcam as evidence.

    I can see the VP spending their free time obsessing over webcam videos (especially of those kids they don’t like), like a trapdoor spider. “They’ll mess up eventually, and then I’ll have my REVENGE!!!! MUHAHAHA!”

    1. Since when do school officials have the right to govern what kids do privately in their own home?
    2. Not only does this a creep-tastic invasion of privacy, but a serious foot-stomping on parents’ rights.
    3. Any one who says this is just to monitor how their kids use the laptops is insanely myopic. It’s very normal to just leave a computer turned on and idle.

    All that being said, if I was a teen and given a computer that someone else had control over, I’d just cover the webcam lens with tape.
    I consider it a form of healthy paranoia, really.

  19. @scribe999: I was being a bit hyperbolic, but considering they were actually abusing their power, I don’t think I’m exaggerating too much. Also, refer to @Chasmosaur‘s comment above. People who hold power abuse that power all the time, including teachers and school administrators, and if you don’t agree with that … you’re pretty naive.

    Besides, kids do the sort of things you just mentioned all the time! None of that is out of the ordinary or has ever been out of the ordinary. It’s not even that bad. (Oh noes! Not paying attention in class! What horrible, naughty children!)

    Doing normal-kid stuff that’s essentially the technical equivalent of passing notes in class is nowhere near the same as a teacher watching them via webcam while the student is at home. Possibly in their bedroom … getting undressed.

    Seriously, I used to doodle and read books in class instead of paying attention to my teachers. Was I an evil, evil child, or just … normal?

    And hell, you’re at work, aren’t you? Hmmm…you seem to be doing the same exact thing the kids in that news special were doing!

    I agree though that they should just steer clear of this legal mess and keep the laptops in the building.

    Then why give the students laptops to begin with? I think the point is that they are portable and can be used at home. Not every student has access to computers after school hours, which is likely one of the reasons they gave out laptops.

    They should shut off the camera functionality, and use software and whatnot to keep abuse of the laptops to a minimum, just like they do at places of business.

  20. I was going to post a link to an old site named ZeroIntelligence about abuses of zero tolerance policies, as it seemed related, and because this is a good story to submit to that site, but I can’t find it. Anyone else know what I’m talking about and can direct me to where it went?

    On a note completely unrelated to the topic, but related to another quickie: I was going to mockingly say that the statue to the Ten Commandments should have a Shinto gate built above it, because the majority must be tolerant of the minority as well. Then I realized that that would actually be a really good idea, even to an atheist like myself. Make it a statue of Buddha holding the Ten Commandments under a Shinto gate flanked by Rama and Krishna (and all underneath the FSM, of course). That would be an awesome display of religious tolerance.

  21. Re: Vatican’s newspaper columnist’s taste in music

    …And precisely why do I care what some Vatican newspaper columnist has to say about rock music? It’s not like he speaks for either the Vatican or the Pope in any official capacity. Not that I would care if it were the Pope or the Vatican’s official word, anyway.

  22. @marilove: Actually you’ve been consistently exaggerating my position. I asked if you had evidence if the students weren’t abusing webcams more than the authorities. You respond with the qualitative actions of one school administration’s agreed upon odious behavior versus the quantitative question about the general abuse of the camera by students. This is a gross overgeneralization based on a single school, hardly a large sample size, and that’s what I found objectionable.

    As for your other reply, “People who hold power abuse that power all the time, including teachers and school administrators, and if you don’t agree with that … you’re pretty naive.” well, that’s a huge assertion as well (ALL the time?) not to mention a fallacy to conclude the naivete of someone who doesn’t necessarily hold that specific opinion. This also belies your earlier post where you proclaimed that you have known good teachers and administrators…were they good but still mad with power as well? Remember, you used the words ALL THE TIME.

    Of course, being distracted is not a huge deal, except that the laptop camera now opens up brand new ways to do it with less chance of being caught. Thus, the need to monitor it during class time specifically. Also, I didn’t just point out all of that aw-shucks, adolescent hijinks as the only level of abuse…I also mentioned the growing issue of sexting…is that not a bit more egregious than goofing off?

    Laptops are portable so you can carry them from classroom to classroom…many schools don’t keep children in the same room all day any more, so yeah, there’s still a reason to keep them in the building.

    However, I have no real objection to shutting off the camera instead. My original position was that if there was a webcam to begin with, surveillance during school hours is acceptable. If there’s no camera, no need to check on the camera usage.

  23. There’s one point I think the article missed. Was there ever any thought to mention to the rest of the faculty or to the students or parents that the webcams could be monitored outside of school grounds?

    That’s your difference between this blatant abuse and workplace monitoring.
    For almost all companies, it’s openly stated. The cameras are in plain view, and you know what they’re for. Policy regarding monitoring e-mail and internet use is clearly written.
    Nothing really all that sneaky. You know it going in, and have a choice.

    If the school adminitrators deliberately chose to include this functionality without anything clearly stated, then not only was it an abuse of power, but it shows their intent was not to prevent anything, but to catch “violators” unawares.

    My teen knows I monitor internet use at home because I TOLD her beforehand. That’s because I’d rather she use some sense because she’s knows I’m checking up rather than have a “gotcha!” moment.

  24. Personally, I think the school administration way overstepped the student’s (and parent’s) 4th Amendment Rights, not to mention common sense, with those webcams. It it were one of my kids, I wouldn’t stop until everyone that had a say in placing and activating those webcams was in prision.

    I hope they fry like cheap hamburgers on a hot grill. :-D

  25. @scribe999:

    Look, my point is that I trust school administrators as much as I trust the students at the school. Actually, I probably trust the students more.

    A web cam on a school-issued laptop that students can bring home, and that can be remotely accessed by an administrator or employee of the school makes me nervous … and for good reason. The web cam should be disabled, period. There’s no reason whatsoever that students need it (and the chance of them abusing it is also pretty high, since one of the points of being a kid is to get away with as much as you can), and there’s no good reason the teachers need it. The chance for abuse is too high. As we see here.

  26. The story about the laptops was all over 4chan last night, with many interesting links, but it’s 404’d now and I cannot find the sights I linked to in my history. So everything below is based on my highly fallible human memory.

    Anyway, many within the school administration were aware of using the cameras to spy on students, and the public only became aware with this incident. The administration defends the principle (administrator) and the principle (ethos) of spying on kids at home. They don’t have much choice but to stand with her, since many of them have known for a while and have probably done the same. There is a class action suit that parents have filed against the school, but no criminal charges as of yet. Although the principle has not stated what inappropriate behavior was somehow punishable at home, local rumors are that a kid took some pills and masturbated to some porn on the laptop. Posters on 4chan posted the principle’s home address, telephone number, email, husband’s work email, and facebook page. By now she is subject to much more surveillance and harassment than she was ever able to inflict on her charges. I can only imagine that she and the rest of the school administration are going to deepen their trenches in response. It seems that school and students are using every weapon at hand to fight each other, and I don’t expect either side will be reasonable. There are no criminal charges as of yet, but of course I hope there will be. There are additional parties involved, because the laptops were paid for by grants from private parties who are trying to develop markets and teaching tools for laptops in the school. Any of these several organizations may feel that they have been defrauded, since they certainly did not hand over money for this purpose.

    This is a good one to watch.

  27. @AlienKnitter: “On a note completely unrelated to the topic, but related to another quickie: I was going to mockingly say that the statue to the Ten Commandments should have a Shinto gate built above it, because the majority must be tolerant of the minority as well. Then I realized that that would actually be a really good idea, even to an atheist like myself. Make it a statue of Buddha holding the Ten Commandments under a Shinto gate flanked by Rama and Krishna (and all underneath the FSM, of course). That would be an awesome display of religious tolerance.”

    I like it.

  28. @magicdude20:

    An the thing is, if any of these very same students had willingly and voluntarily sexted a picture to another student, bot the sender and the receiver would likely have been in big trouble. But if an adult catches video of naked students while they’re snooping for illegal activity, they think there’s nothing wrong with that.

  29. The school can not only take a pict through the webcam, but a pict of the computer screen as well. So the student may simply have been visiting a non-approved sight, like MrSkin, or Knowyourconstitutionalrights.

  30. I’ve actually heard about the bras and cancer thing before. If lymph constriction really caused cancer, then there are plenty of things that constrict more than bras. What about socks, underwear, belts, and skinny jeans?

    The person who argued for a connection basically said that bras must cause breast cancer because poorer countries have lower rates of both breast cancer and bra-wearing. Of course, there are a million more correlations, all of which are more plausible than blaming it on bras. The most likely answer is that women die from infectious disease or malnutrition before they even have a chance to develop or detect breast cancer. Having more children at a younger age, and possibly extended breastfeeding also play role.

  31. While obviously having nothing to do with what the Pope (that other one) would consider the best rock albums, it was curious and pleasantly surprising to see David Crosby’s first solo album “If I Could Only Remember My Name” on the “Vatican” list. It has always been one of my favourites but I wonder if they listened to any of the lyrics other than “Orleans”.

  32. Am I the only one for whom the inclusion of Thriller triggered gross imagery? Q: What singer do paedophilic priests prefer when buggering altar boys?

    Re: What those laptops could see: The Offspring used to leave his on when he wasn’t using it at the exact moment. Like when he took a shower break preparatory to going somewhere. And came back into his room to towel off and get dressed – so he was innocently standing starkers right in front of his laptop on a regular basis. Even if his school had owned the laptop instead of him, I’d be right there suing the fuckers for invasion of privacy.

    Re: Bras: When I was 13, my gym teacher told my class that wearing a coloured bra would give one breast cancer. Of course, she also told us that letting a boy touch one’s breasts resulted in same. Marriage, however, conferred a mystical immunisation. God will punish you for being a slut!

  33. Infinite Monkey: Read it again. They are saying the MINORITY has to tolerate the MAJORITY, which is pretty much the republican motto.

    Re: Laptop cam. If 4Chan is right and the kid was masturbating, the school is actually going to argue that masturbation in the “privacy” of one’s own home is inappropriate? Good luck with that.

  34. @Glow-Orb: I think the school would say that popping pills is inappropriate. Federal courts in the US have allowed schools to get away with a lot if its for the purpose of promoting drug-free messages. Nothing like this, of course; they’re screwed whatever their reasoning is.

    It did seem to be a local rumor not originating on teh internets, but still just a rumor.

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