The laptop never sleeps

Just for the heck of it, call your I.T. department today and double-check that they’ve not taken privacy invasion to new heights the way a suburban Philadelphia school has.

Unbeknownst to te 6,900 students in the Lower Merion School District, the free Macbooks they got from their high schools came with a surveillance program, which was supposed to be used to track missing laptops.

But a lawsuit claims the webcams were switched on to see what some of the kids were up to. Here’s senior Blake Robbins engaged in some mighty suspicious deed.


Robbins, who has sued the district, was disciplined by his school, however, for the pill-popping the camera allegedly caught.

Could it happen to you? The Louisville Courier-Journal says “maybe.”

There are several control packages out there that allow remote access to webcams and microphones, which are equally risky to your privacy. The vast majority of these pop up a warning that someone is accessing your computer and ask you if you wish to allow this access. So the odds of someone installing one of these without your knowledge is pretty low, but you may want to scroll through your running programs for software you don’t understand.

There are some Trojan horse programs out there that can turn on your camera or microphone; they are not terribly common, but they are out there. The defense for that, of course, is to make sure your security software is up to date. If you have a Mac, consider Norton; If you have a PC, get the latest free version of Security Essentials from the Microsoft Web site.

Meanwhile, data turned over by the school district has since shown that 56,000 images of students were taken in about 80 cases, and that the webcams were kept on long after “missing” laptops were located.

In other privacy news, you may want to stop photocopying those personal papers on your office computer.

  • Anton Rang

    It’s also worthwhile paying attention to any camera indicator that your laptop may have: on many laptops (including the MacBook) there’s a small light which comes on when the camera is in use. If you ever see it on when you didn’t expect … find out why!