My school issued MacBooks, which they later used to spy on me and my class mates. AMA.
My high school issued laptops to all its students, with the capability to remotely activate their cameras. Later on, members of the technology department started abusing this privilege, which was revealed when a Vice Principal used photographic evidence to accuse a student of taking drugs (when in fact the "pills" in question had been Mike & Ikes). Students and parents were outraged, and an FBI investigation ensued.
I was involved in the implementation of the program, and set up a meeting with the Principal once we (students) realized we were being spied on. That meeting was mentioned in the official FBI report. AMA!
I am also happy to provide the mods proof of my involvement in meeting with administrators about the laptops.
Funny story actually. When the news broke, I was a freshman in college. I didn't find out until someone on campus randomly mentioned it and I instantly realized it was my school. After class, I have a voicemail from my dad: "The FBI called the house. I don't know what you did but they want to talk to you. I think you better book a flight back." End of message. As a kid with many reasons to be paranoid, I was freaking out. Turns out, my dad was fucking with me. The FBI got all they needed about the meeting from the Principal. Plus I was under 18 at the time.
If only there were someone, someone better at the internet than me. And could bring a bender gif to this. The only bender gif appropriate
My stages of emotion:
I noticed on your diploma you graduated in 2009. I graduated from LM in 2007 and my brother was there while I was in college. I remember him and his friends all being like "omg they're spying on us".
Pretty much captures the mentality. Knew it was happening, but most people were pretty cavalier about the whole thing.
How did you students make the discovery? Was it just that one incident?
Also, your username sounds like you were the spy...why were you spying on innocent children???
When the cameras were being activated remotely, a green light would appear next to them. It was not just that one incident. In fact, I'd venture to say there were at least a few people in every class I had who experienced the green light "issue".
Seemed like a good idea at the time. (haha only kidding)
were they mostly hot girls who got the green light the most?
Haha, no. Speaking for high school dudes everywhere, I think that's a trend we'd have picked up on.
The green light was a signal of a lonely man at the other side of a virtual sea... A man descended into depravity, using an instrument only available to the affluent. A man within a trusted and cherished community, and without.
you just gave an eerily similar description of Gatsby
Yeah, the original comment was something about the green light being similar to the symbol in the book. So I just went for it.
So.... did they catch you or anyone fapping?
And in the wiki article, this all started when one of your classmates was brought into the office for discipline, what did he do at home that they felt the need to discipline him?
Well... we don't really know. Given the age of the kids, and the number of laptops that seemed to be monitored, I'd venture to say yes. Many.
Basically he didn't put down a deposit, then took the laptop home (not allowed without deposit), and claimed it was stolen. So they activated GPS and the camera to recover the laptop. Not to accuse him of doing drugs.
So in his case, the camera came on because the District legitimately thought the laptop was stolen? What about all the other kids with the "green light problem"? My high school kept track of all the classroom-use laptops, it sounds like quite a few students would have to be able to sneak them out illicitly for the district to justify enabling the cameras on all of them.
Yeah, kind of. I think they suspected he had taken it home and wanted to prove it. Either way, I think it was probably a justifiable use.
I had the green light problem. And I had never been in trouble for anything at school, and was involved in implementing them into the school. Plus IIRC, like half of my friends had it too. So yeah, I think most of the times we were monitored, it was complete bullshit.
Monitoring of the laptops themselves was very sloppy. Some were for home use, others for classroom use. Wouldn't have been hard to take one designed for classroom use and claim it was your personal one. I think the GPS and the remote camera activation were sort of a catch-all that could be used despite the poor organization.
Given what went on and the fact that the district has admitted to doing it, the green light was probably an indication that they were watching, but there was a bug around that time that would cause the camera light to come on(camera was on too) without anyone necessarily watching from somewhere else.
Right. I remember reading about it at the time. The administration claimed the bug was responsible for the light. We still don't know whether that was true. But like someone smarter than me once said, "there are no coincidences, only the illusion of coincidence".
The administration claimed the bug was responsible for the light.
Seems a bit silly to try that given that it's been proven that there was wrongdoing going on. And while it's completely believeable that the Tech department did something without the administration knowing, it's administration's job to know everything that's going on.
Being a tech in a school, I can say for certain that the green light thing can and did happen when there was no monitoring software of any kind installed.
When I say that they "claimed the bug was responsible", I don't mean they did so in an official capacity. It was just kind of what teachers would say when people brought it up. Very informally. And some teachers took the opposite approach and advocated obscuring the cameras with tape. It was not a unified front, or a cover-up of any kind. (Note that this all happened before the story broke, during the period of time in which the students were very suspicious of the green light.)
Agreed - the administration was very foolish indeed.
Agreed - the administration was very foolish indeed.
Seems to me that it's often the case that someone will do something silly trying to cover their butt and then get in more trouble because of the cover up than for the original "crime".
From what's being described here though, it sounds more like a bunch of people that had zero clue what to do rather than an intentional cover up.
Yep, that's exactly it. And what's crazy is that we, as students, glimpsed how serious it might have been, tried to probe a little, and still didn't really convince anyone important that it was worth a closer look. "Oblivious" doesn't even begin to describe it.
I took one of them apart at one point, and I think the green light was essentially hard wired into the camera circutry, so you can't activate the camera without also activating the LED. (unless you removed/damaged the LED)
Yeah, I'm aware of that. The point is that the green light would come on without any sort of local activation.
As someone who is typing this from a MacBook Air that my high school gave me and every student...What measures do you recommend I take to ensure my privacy while I use this laptop?
Well shit man, I'm not very well versed in spying programs. But I would suggest just really familiarizing yourself with the device. Read the consent forms you or your parents signed, take a look at all the programs installed, look through the HD for anything abnormal, check for add-ons and extensions in your browser, etc. But above all, only use that shit for schoolwork when you need to and don't do anything illegal on it.
Also, tape the camera. That's what I did.
Are you hot?
As the Second AMA ever to respond to my questions I was going to give you gold, but since it looks like a throw away account, you'll have to live with the fact I admire and respect you.
Ah, thanks man! If you still want to gild me, I know this guy would appreciate it!
I got that guy covered.
You're the man.
I'm just this guy, you know?
Yeah man. You're the guy.
pics for...verification, pls
I'm just kidding, don't actually do it.
They're already out there. Haven't you been reading??
Did they make you sign something before giving you the laptops? If it wasn't even mentioned in a contract that's fucked.
Consent forms did not mention the remote activation feature. I read them over before they were sent out. 16 year-old me with no law degree figured they were fine. But I assumed someone knew what they were doing...
Couldn't this be considered illegal 'wiretapping' then? According to something I saw on FP a few months ago (which, may have been false because internet), wiretapping includes any kinds of digital recordings, visual or audible. There could be a MAJOR lawsuit over this. Plus, I'm assuming most of the kids being recorded as minors without any adult permission, which would make it worse. And also if they had video of a student jacking off or something (I mean, you can't expect that no one would use the computer to look at porn), couldn't that be child porn issues as well?
I'm not a lawyer or anything, but all of this just sounds like it can add up to be one big mess of a lawsuit.
Possibly. Hard for me to talk about "wiretapping" with no expertise. But I'm confident that lawyers in the case at the time would have looked into it. Also, there were only photographic "snapshots" - no video or audio information could be gleaned remotely.
Child porn issues - yeah maybe. (I'm inclined to think that it was likely.) But very few of the snapshots were actually recovered, and there were no CP charges filed. Doesn't mean it wasn't happening, but it wasn't discovered.
Wait so the class action was settled for 610,000, does that mean each person only got like $250 or so dollars?
I believe most of that went to the family that filed it. My family sure as hell never received any money.
Do you know of anyone who was spyed on while "choking their chicken" or doing the "no pants dance"?
I think that's more than likely, yes.
were any of the spys accused of "choking their chickens"?
I believe they were put on trial for "holding the sausage hostage".
That's such a dirty sounding word.
Did anyone get busted playing cuntry on the clitar?
I know people were worried about all the "hand to gland combat".
Were you personally affected by this? Did you find out your photos were analyzed as well P.S. all the students received laptops...I must live in a third world country:)
It was a nice school in a really affluent community. Having said that, parents didn't even need to pay for anything other than a deposit.
It seemed really strange but cool to us.
It was a nice school in a really affluent community.
This made me think "That sounds like the high school I went to..." and then I saw the article.
I went to Radnor.
At least buying laptops for all the students makes more sense than building two multimillion-dollar astroturf fields, which Radnor did.
Oh, we did that too but bought the laptops first. We're impulse shoppers.
Crazy. These schools are comically wealthy. I've never been able to understand why that money isn't put to better use. But that's another topic.
I think part of the problem is that since there aren't any pressing needs, they're not sure how to best allocate funds.
Sure -- I would like to see something exploratory, creative, or philanthropic.
Start a program where students start their own businesses, and the school helps provide startup cash. This will allow students not only to perhaps make a little money and contribute something tangible to the world and experience the satisfaction of that (as opposed to all your efforts amounting in little more than a grade), but also to gain real-world experience that few college applicants will have.
Give students money to give to charity. This would allow students to do their own research and find a cause they believe in, and feel what it is like to contribute, perhaps leading to further contributions once they have their own income. (this could be done through an online student portal or something so that students don't just take it and spend it on whatever)
Fund field trips for little kids from low-income schools that otherwise couldn't afford them, allowing the high school students to act as chaperones and teach these kids. They say the best way to learn is to teach...
This is just the tip of the iceberg.
All of these are geared toward allowing a sense of purpose and contribution to develop. So many young people -- especially wealthy ones -- get to be 22 before they're expected to doing anything that affects anybody else. Kids get used to being treated like they aren't old enough to matter, instead of being able to experience how important they are and how much they are needed in the world.
And on the business side of things for the school, top colleges don't want "well-rounded" students who get straight A's and nothing else. They want a well-rounded student body, with unique standouts from all kinds of fields -- people who have done something interesting. The spelling bee champion, the entrepreneur, the award-winning musician, the community service hero. That's what Radnor has the money to help students become.
Nobody needs a turf field.
- Pay for incredible lecturers to visit. Give students a moving or inspiring experience, and the opportunity to meet people who excel in their fields and are doing interesting and meaningful work.
As they say, "spend money on experiences, rather than objects."
The first option sounds like a great idea, and it's something happening elsewhere so I can't see why it shouldn't be implemented.
The second option is risky for a couple reasons. First, not all charities are made equal. Some "charities" have religious affiliations, others use controversial science, and still others are fraudulent. Probably best not to let students use taxpayer money. Plus if you just give money to students, then they don't really value it. Anyway, nice idea in theory but maybe not great in practice.
The third idea actually happens! I had an old teacher at WV that came from an underprivileged school in Philly. We visited them, made friends; then they visited us. It was actually pretty cool and enlightening.
Your edit - yes! That would have been so cool and inspiring. I know they do pay lecturers but I have virtually no memory of anyone I heard speak. So maybe they need better selectors? Or perhaps the money should be pooled differently. Student input could play a role here.
On the whole, these were really cool ideas. Hopefully we've got some lurking administrators.
Was I personally affected? Well, I did feel like a badass for totally predicting this mess. It's why I wanted to meet with the Principal. Sadly, nothing really changed after we spoke.
No one was fired? How old were these kids that were spied on? In what situations would they spy mostly? Is spying like that not illegal in your country? Imagine I was spied on. You don't know what they saw. Maybe there is a video going round of my fapping or me having sex? I would literally sacrifice some years of my life in prison by killing whoever was in charge of this endeavor. Or at least hurting him real bad. Really bad. I don't like being spied on. But you probably noticed that.
- I believe members of the technology department were fired. Some administrators were put on temporary leave.
- The kids were all high schoolers.
- They were supposed to only use the feature in the case of a stolen laptop. But many of us experienced it - and once your camera was remotely activated, the green light would remain lit indefinitely.
- It's illegal unless you give consent, I think. #notalawyer
- Ok? But yeah, that would suck.
Thanks mate, guess I 'hyperboled' a bit, I wont really go do that you know. And I wish you all the best. But stuff like this freaks me out. Like the other day, some guy at a hockey club was arrested for having set up cameras in the girls changing room. Its unbelievable.
That's dumb. Girls are there to get drunk and make poor decisions anyway. Also it's wrong and stuff.
Wasn't the director of technology fired?
Possibly. I can't confirm that but it certainly sounds like a rational response.
How do you feel you are adjusting to the real world after leaving the shelter of the Main Line?
Haha. I always wanted to leave and definitely was cynical about growing up there. So I think better than most. But some aspects of college were definitely a jolt to my system. Like laundry. Fuck laundry.
As someone who does laundry regularly I have to second that.
Colleges are secretly conspiring with the gnomes which explain their multi billion dollar industry of stolen left socks and old quarters.
See now that's weird because for me it was always the right socks went missing. Evidence of national coordination, if you ask me. 'Course no one ever does. The stories I could tell...
Is there a difference between right and left socks? I always thought they were the same. :O
Oh to be young and naive...
No seriously. Is there a difference? I'm 24 and always assumed they were ambipeduous.
I'm sorry son, it's just one of those things you have to learn for yourself.
yeah, that and when you get to close to everything they send someone to rip out your laundry from the washer or the dryer
so you have to pay another round....it just goes deep and deeper
The answer lies at the place where they are hidden. Can't say any more right now. They are coming. Drums in the deep.
Omfg, someone give you double gold. That was perfect!
Gratefully accepting gold here!
What was the general reaction from the students after the news broke?
Good question. I guess it depends on who you ask. I was in college at the time and most of the people I spoke to weren't very shocked or surprised at all. The green light indicator next to the camera alerted most to the fact that there was remote monitoring. But there was still outrage. It's kind of fun to be a conspiracist, but once you get confirmation that something perverse is happening, that's when people get vindictive. They start to think about all the "what ifs" of when they might have been watched.
There was also a lot of condemnation of the student who was responsible for the information leaking. Not because of the leaking itself, but because the perception was that his family was trying to milk the situation for financial gain. It didn't help that neither the student nor the family had a great reputation to begin with.
The Vice Principal who had made the drug accusation also received a ton of heat from the students and parents. I actually felt bad for her, since I knew she had next to nothing to do with the laptop initiative and hadn't been doing anything malicious. She just made a huge mistake that ended up putting her at the center of a scandal just as it was breaking.
[She] hadn't been doing anything malicious. She just made a huge mistake.
I couldn't disagree more. The fact that the remote monitoring existed was outrageous enough, but actually using the illegally obtained photos to accuse someone (incorrectly, as it turns out) of drug abuse is unforgivable. Moreover, why did she imagine that she had any authority to investigate or punish someone for conduct that occurred off of school grounds?
Given the sheer number of lines that she crossed in terms of lack of jurisdiction, invasion of privacy, warrantless searches, etc, etc, the simple fact that she didn't put the brakes on immediately means that she (and any other administrators that thought this was a reasonable idea) is completely unfit for that job.
It's outrageous that nobody from the administration or school board was prosecuted or (at the very least) fired for this fiasco.
In theory, most of what you said is on point. A few things to consider:
She was just a Vice Principal. She wasn't involved in bringing the laptops to the school, wasn't involved in crafting laptop policy, and didn't conduct any of the spying personally.
She had authority to investigate someone off of school grounds because the laptop was considered stolen school property. She had the camera activated (initially) only to recover it.
I absolutely agree that she shouldn't have accused him of drug use. But like many school administrators, she was overzealous and saw a problem that wasn't there.
She wasn't fired, but she was harassed and had her reputation tarnished, despite playing only a very minor role in the spying itself.
She was aware that students were being remotely monitored in their bedrooms and she never reported it. That is perverse enough for me. I don't care if she was a sweet woman, pillar of the community and a mom who bakes cookies for fundraisers she was complicit in spying on minors. She does not deserve to be allowed continue to work with children. She should have been fired without reference.
It may just be one mistake but it's a big enough mistake for real punishment and she didn't receive it. Anyone with prior knowledge of the monitoring should have been fired and barred from working with children.
There's an important distinction here. What the VP knew was the laptop policy. She knew that the cameras could be remotely activated in the case of a lost/stolen laptop. And that's what happened with this particular student. She didn't realize how wrong it was to use a snapshot, taken legitimately, for purposes other than recovering it. Once she knew what had become of the computer, she then used it to interrogate him about something suspicious in the photograph. That goes beyond simply recovering school property and was her mistake. What she absolutely didn't know was that the technology department seemed also to be taking snapshots completely irrelevant to the recover of lost/stolen laptops.
Huh, do you know why the principal didn't do shit? I think that's a major invasion of privacy, unless there was a contract you had to sign where you gave them permission.
There was a consent form but it didn't mention anything about remote activation of cameras. My impression, now that I am older, is that he was really unprepared for the seriousness of the issue. I don't think he was very knowledgeable about technology and was completely unaware of the potential for this to be used to take advantage of underage people when they were most vulnerable...
He also claimed that the capability to activate the cameras was not being abused and I do not believe he was lying. But ignorance is no excuse, and he really should have looked further into the matter. If he had, he could have handled it internally before it blew up in his face.
The decision to add the spying software did come from above. The admin wanted to be able to locate a computer via GPS and take a picture of the culprit, if stolen.
However, the admin was not aware that remote activation was occurring outside of the specific case of a lost or stolen laptop. I'm not sure whether the whole department was in on it (unlikely) or there was an inner group or merely a lone spy.
Will the school be closed or will the teachers be fired (those who knew about the spying?)
This happened over four years ago. Teachers/administrators were not fired. They just handled it really bad. The ones who were fired were members of the technology department who conducting unauthorized spying.
What software did they use to monitor the laptops? Were there any cases of students figuring out that there was suspicious behavior on their computers?
I'm not sure about that one, buddy. Yeah - a green light would come on whenever the cameras were accessed.
Did they monitor what was said as well?
Not that I know of. Also I just specifically remembered asking the Principal if they had installed a keylogger and he denied it.
What did they do with the laptops afterwards?
Gave em to this guy
When did this happen? What grade are you guys in? God, I could see my school pulling this kind of shit. What was your reaction? How did it all turn out in the end??
I was a student representative in meetings about the laptops in early 2008. I believe we received them in the fall of that year when I was a senior.
The first issues with the infamous "green light" started arising a few months after they were given to us. My first reaction was to question the nature of the problem. It seemed suspicious to me because I knew the admin had the ability to remotely activate the camera and I started to wonder whether they were doing it more frequently than they should have been. Granted, I was in a privileged position because I already knew a lot about the policy.
So I scheduled a meeting with the Principal (we had a good relationship) and asked him a bunch of questions about it. He denied they were using the remote activation at any time other than when laptops were lost/stolen. This turned out to be untrue, and furthermore, my questions didn't alert him to the fact that maybe there was something more to the omnipresent "green light". Maybe it's not a great idea to give a technology department the power to spy on teenagers without oversight. I dunno. Maybe.
In the end, a Vice Principal made a mistake which revealed that the cameras were being activated for other than intended purposes. This led to public outrage and the FBI investigation. Ultimately, members of the technology department were fired, but not administrators. The school district settled with a family who had sued the school.
were any of the victims clever enough to find the spyware? also wondering what sort of technology they were using.
Not that I know of. I know some other students fiddled around with the computers but if any of them had found irrefutable proof of the spying, I'm guessing he/she would have shared it.
Did you or the other students get to see the photos they took of you? Any video or audio?
Thanks for doing the AMA.
We did not. There were only pictures - no audio or video, and it was all "For FBI Eyes Only." The jerks.
What was the most embarrassing thing you did in front of your MacBook while you were being watched (as far you know)?
Occasionally I'd use my home computer with my laptop open at a different angle. Which means they could've watched my nightly ritual of impulsivity followed by paralyzing self-doubt while deciding which girls to send a message in fbook chat. High school was damned awkward.
Hey, I went to upper merion during the time this came out and we had a similar program. The school was quick to make sure their asses were covered and everyone knew what was in the news wasn't us. What was the reaction like among the students?
Before the story broke, I remember it was weird. I was alarmed by it. Both because I felt somewhat responsible (since I was involved in meetings about the laptops) and also because I knew how grave the issue would be if spying was, in fact, happening.
I remember other students were also aware of the possibility, but it was mostly a joke to them. Nobody seemed really stressed about it. There we were, sitting in class with most of our cameras lighting up green for no apparent reason. Some of us had taped them over. I guess in retrospect, it seems kind of dystopian. Maybe I'm being melodramatic. For me, I was fairly concerned about it and it felt surreal that others either ignored it or found it laughable.
Do you know for certain if any pictures were taken of you yourself?
I don't know anything for certain. But I do know that I experienced a "green light issue" along with many of my classmates that seemed to signal that my camera was being activated remotely.
How does the school justify their spying?
So this whole thing has been over for a few years now. But basically the spying software was put in place to recover lost/stolen laptops. However, the technology department was abusing that power. In the end, there was no justification for that.
What is happening to the spy's? (Fired or jail or something they could have recorded CP?)
My sources tell me they were fired. Administrators, however, were not.
Other than people being more on their guard about privacy... no.
The laptop initiative was scrapped, and in addition to people losing their jobs, I'm sure tons of teachers and administrators had to do additional training hours of some kind.
But I think the real failure here was to see the potential for abuse of power. I think that's a fairly universal problem, and it's one we should be aware of in light of recent insights into the operations of our intelligence agencies.
How much of the $610,000 did you get?
All of it. They said, "Someday, this kid's gonna be addicted to reddit and he'll need it."
None of it.
Did they see you jackin' it?
Nah man. Gotta tape up that sucker.
Wait, that's not what I meant. I meant the camera. Dammit.
I have searched through the AMA but have not found anything relating to this. Were there any lawsuits as a result of this?
Yes, there was. And the district settled with the family for something in the vicinity of 600k. It's all in the Wikipedia link at the top.
What software did they use? How did you detect it? What was it like at school the day after the new broke?
Not sure about the software. We, as students, did not detect it. We merely saw that the cameras appeared to be in use when we clearly weren't using them. Eventually, the scandal broke when a Vice Principal made a false accusation using evidence from a photograph.
I had graduated by that time, but apparently it was fairly hectic. My good buddy said that it pretty much dominated discussion in his classes, but he still had to take an exam.
What were some of the things you did infront of your laptop?
I had a home computer so not really that much... Plus I'm not an idiot.
Do you think that the school district could be charged with child pornography? I mean.... Most people use their laptops for porn, at least some of the time.
At this point, no I think the matter has settled and it's highly unlikely they'll be charged. But it was definitely possible at the time. I'm totally unfamiliarity with how CP is defined legally, but if they had any compromising pictures that weren't properly authorized (in the case of a lost/stolen computer), I think that would qualify.
As I mentioned elsewhere, nearly all of the photographs were completely erased from hard drives and servers so we will never know their substance. Definitely makes you wonder though.
Was any of the footage used illicitly or otherwise stolen?
Well according to the FBI report, there were over 66,000 photographs but not all were recovered. So I'm going to say yes.
.....well that's a potentially large amount of child porn. I am naked in front of my computer all the time (thankfully no webcam). What was the response from the students like? Did no one say "holy shit, they could have pictures of me doing my naked victory dance?"
Agreed. I doubt all of it was child porn and in fact, have zero evidence that any of it was. But yeah, I'd say most people were worried about their "dates with Pamela Handerson".
What's your name? I'm from LMHS as well :)
It's cool that we're from the same town and all, but dude...
Eeek. What was it like dealing with the FBI?
View HistoryShare Link