School District Admits Laptop Webcams Mistakenly Snapped Over 13,000 Photos

Some 56,000 Photos Taken In All

2 min read

A few months back, I blogged 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 had given all 2,300 students at its two high schools the laptops which come with a webcam as part of a technology/education initiative.

Last week, the Philadelphia Inquirer (which has extensive coverage of the case) reported that the family filed another motion alleging that "thousands of webcam pictures and screen shots have been taken of numerous other students in their homes." The family's lawyer further alleges that some of the school district employees may have been engaged in voyeurism. The school district vehemently denies that was the case at all.

This week, the school district did admit that it activated the webcams some 146 times over the past two years, the Inquirer reported. Over that time, over 56,000 pictures were captured, but only when the school district thought that the laptops were stolen or lost. It said that in the family's case, they hadn't paid the $55 dollar insurance fee that allowed the laptop to be brought home.

Furthermore, the school district said that 38,000 of the photos snapped were related to 6 laptops reported stolen from a locker room that were eventually recovered by police.

However, in at least five cases, the laptops continued to take pictures even after laptops thought to be lost were found and reported as such. In this case, over 13,000 photos were taken that shouldn't have been.

The Philadelphia Inquirer quotes the school district's lawyer as saying that in those cases, "This is where a significant mistake has been made... Clearly those trackings should have been turned off earlier... The taking of these pictures without student consent in their homes was obviously wrong."

In related news, a judge has ordered that access to all photos that the school district may have captured be restricted from the public. The school district also says that it will allow parents of students who have had their webcams turned on to see what was captured, while US Attorney Michael Levy, who said earlier that he was going to look into the situation to see if federal wiretap laws were violated, asked the judge to let the FBI review the photos.

There was an APstory yesterday reporting that the school district's insurance company is now refusing to cover the district's legal costs since the costs are not covered under its personal injury policy.

The school district's investigation into the situation is expected to conclude in early May. The resulting fallout from it may take much longer to settle.

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An IBM Quantum Computer Will Soon Pass the 1,000-Qubit Mark

The Condor processor is just one quantum-computing advance slated for 2023

4 min read
This photo shows a woman working on a piece of apparatus that is suspended from the ceiling of the laboratory.

A researcher at IBM’s Thomas J. Watson Research Center examines some of the quantum hardware being constructed there.

Connie Zhou/IBM

IBM’s Condor, the world’s first universal quantum computer with more than 1,000 qubits, is set to debut in 2023. The year is also expected to see IBM launch Heron, the first of a new flock of modular quantum processors that the company says may help it produce quantum computers with more than 4,000 qubits by 2025.

This article is part of our special report Top Tech 2023.

While quantum computers can, in theory, quickly find answers to problems that classical computers would take eons to solve, today’s quantum hardware is still short on qubits, limiting its usefulness. Entanglement and other quantum states necessary for quantum computation are infamously fragile, being susceptible to heat and other disturbances, which makes scaling up the number of qubits a huge technical challenge.

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