The December 2022 issue of IEEE Spectrum is here!

Close bar

Last week, the APpublished a story about a family filing a federal lawsuit against the Lower Merion School District in suburban Philadelphia alleging that it was spying on students  and their families through school-issued Apple laptops. The school gave all 2,300 students at its two high schools the laptops which come with a webcam as part of a technology/education initiative.

According to the AP story, the school district said that the laptops "contain a security feature intended to track lost, stolen and missing laptops." It also has said that it has deactivated the feature and will not reactivate it "without express written notification to all students and families."

According to the school district's website:

 "Laptops are a frequent target for theft in schools and off school property. The security feature was installed to help locate a laptop in the event it was reported lost, missing or stolen so that the laptop could be returned to the student...Upon a report of a suspected lost, stolen or missing laptop, the feature was activated by the District's security and technology departments. The tracking-security feature was limited to taking a still image of the operator and the operator's screen. This feature has only been used for the limited purpose of locating a lost, stolen or missing laptop. The District has not used the tracking feature or web cam for any other purpose or in any other manner whatsoever."

However, the family suing the school district claims otherwise, saying that the webcam was used to watch it in "compromising" situations. The school denies it, even though it does admit to activating laptop webcams 42 times and taking still images from them. 

Now there are reports that the FBI and a Philadelphia district attorney may investigate the incident. Some legal experts believe that the school crossed the legal line by activating the cameras and not letting parents and students that they could do so.

In a related news story, high school students using government provided laptops in Australia are reportedly using them to exchange ideas on Facebook and other social media web sites on how to get around the Australian government's embedded laptop security-software, which includes, "includes content filtering, system identification and theft protection," the Sydney Morning Herald reported last week.

The Herald says that the government is monitoring those web sites. If a student is found to be offering hacking technical advice, the laptop could be taken away and the student punished.

The Australian government is committed to giving out a free laptop to every public school student from grades 9 to 12, about 141,000 in all.

The Conversation (0)

Why Functional Programming Should Be the Future of Software Development

It’s hard to learn, but your code will produce fewer nasty surprises

11 min read
A plate of spaghetti made from code
Shira Inbar

You’d expectthe longest and most costly phase in the lifecycle of a software product to be the initial development of the system, when all those great features are first imagined and then created. In fact, the hardest part comes later, during the maintenance phase. That’s when programmers pay the price for the shortcuts they took during development.

So why did they take shortcuts? Maybe they didn’t realize that they were cutting any corners. Only when their code was deployed and exercised by a lot of users did its hidden flaws come to light. And maybe the developers were rushed. Time-to-market pressures would almost guarantee that their software will contain more bugs than it would otherwise.

Keep Reading ↓Show less