Laptops

LANrev to lose Theft Track feature following Pa. school spying allegations

Absolute Software will permanently disable LANrev's Theft Track feature following allegations of webcam spying in the Lower Merion School District.

More details are emerging about the case of alleged webcam spying by officials at Harriton High School (Lower Merion School District in Montgomery, Pa.). Here are the important updates that news outlets have reported:

  • The Lower Merion School District used LANrev to remotely manage and track stolen/lost laptops.
  • A member the District's IT staff discussed the benefits of using LANrev in a May, 2008 Webcast on MacEnterprise.org. During the MacEnterprise video, the IT staff member said, "I've actually had some laptops we thought were stolen which actually were still in a classroom because they were misplaced, and by the time we found out that they were back I had to turn the tracking off and I had a good 20 snapshots of the teacher and the students using the machines in the classroom. But, you'll see that the feature works fantastic [sic]."
  • LANrev was published by Pole Position Software, which was bought by Absolute Software (publisher of LoJack for Laptops and Computrace) in 2009.
  • Absolute Software has rebranded LANrev as Absolute Manage and the current product is not marketed as a theft recovery tool.
  • Computerworld reported that Absolute Software would permanently disable LANrev's Theft Track feature, which was used in the Harriton High School case.
  • CBS News reported that unlike LANrev, only Absolute personnel can activate the theft tracking features of Computrace and LoJack products and company policy requires a case file from a police department before they will do so.
  • The Philadelphia Inquirer reported court order a has been issued that "says the district must preserve all computer files - particularly captured images - and cannot change the software on the laptops without permission."
  • Multiple agencies are conducting investigations, including the U.S. Attorney's Office, FBI, and Montgomery County District Attorney's Office.
  • Federal prosecutors have issued a subpoena for district records related to the laptop tracking system.
  • The blog Stryde Hax published a detailed report on how LANrev could capture photos through the Macbook's iSight camera despite security measures in OS X to prevent someone from remotely activating the webcam.

About

Bill Detwiler is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and Tech Pro Research and the host of Cracking Open, CNET and TechRepublic's popular online show. Prior to joining TechRepublic in 2000, Bill was an IT manager, database administrator, and desktop supp...

11 comments
Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

the people who put it in to start with - in should never have been part of it.

RayG314
RayG314

The problem with TheftTrack was not with the concept of tracking potentially stolen laptops, but rather with this case's uncontrolled use of the camera function for location and possession determination. However, there is still potential value in the photographs for the recovery of the laptop. Could Absolute Software get and hold the photgraphic evidence until it was handed over to law enforcement? That would enable the software to retain its value and resolve the potential spying allegations.

PoppaTab
PoppaTab

I believe very strong regulations or stipulations should be put in place like the police report before theft-tracking can be utilized. There also has to be some sort of safeguards in the area of privacy rights. The Merion school district example is only one of many ways this sort of software can be abused. Privacy violating software has been around in many forms like key-loggers and such for a very long time. While restriction of such software seems a good idea; restriction will not stop the determined in the public/private arenas. I believe a court order should be needed before any camera software could be used. The ultimate way to prevent possible privacy violations would be to disallow any camera activation in software of that nature. I believe it is a bit too late for the most part to regulate only the area of theft tracking. Examples of "nanny cam" gone wild abound as well as home security cam systems are abused as well. A jealous spouse, partner, or person with other illegal intent will find a way to violate privacy. The example of Merion school district shows that it is far too easy to abuse the camera activation feature. Any legitimate software can be used in illegitimate ways. The example of the vice-principal of the Merion school district school who believed a student was using/selling drugs well demonstrates an illegitimate cam use. Other theft tracking types of actions are useful. The corporate world has used compliance tactics that have worked well for years. Being able to monitor content and usage of a laptop computer used by the adult employees is used well. Both adults and children can and do pressure the limit of what they have been told not to do. Being able to capture the identity of a thief of a laptop or any camera enable hardware seems to be a plus in many ways. The use of a camera on hardware to capture images is a very demonstrated controversy.

michael_carr
michael_carr

I really beleive that the members of the school board as well as involved administrators need to be made to face criminal charges in this case. Many school districts have become "in loco parentis" all the time. I don't know where the need comes from but it has to be checked here and now. This is an ideal case of ignorant clueless administrators ( ignorant of tech, ignorant of the law, ignorant of history) have begun to teach our children that it is OK for those with power to do anything they want with impunity. Find one image of a partially undressed minor in their bedroom and the Lower Merion school district can't be located near their own schools 'cause they are now need to be labeled as sexual predators.

Bill Detwiler
Bill Detwiler

In the above blog post, I work through several recent events in the case of alleged webcam spying by school officials from the Lower Merion School District. Original post: http://blogs.techrepublic.com.com/itdojo/?p=1559 While the facts in this specific case will hopefully come out in the coming weeks and months, I'm more concerned about the ultimate affect the case will have on technology and individual privacy. And, I hope this case will encourage US courts and legislators to answer some pressing legal questions around monitoring through applications like LANrev. For instance, is an individual violating privacy laws by capturing an image through a laptop Webcam without the explicit consent of the person being filmed? In what circumstances might capturing such and image be legal? Could a spouse install such software on a laptop to catch an unfaithful mate? Could a corporation capture images of their employees using such software? If so, where--(the office, in a hotel room while on corporate travel, in their homes)? What sort of notice is required? As technology quickly outpaces existing laws, IT professionals need clarification on what's legal and what's not. I hope we soon get it.

dayen
dayen

They took 56000 Picture of the students with the webcams (over a two year period) not the laptop's desktop screens claming they want to know if they were doing home work or not The cop in me says they should go to jail and burn in hell and never be alowed in a school again or within 5000 feet of children I belive them to be pedophiles must be rich scool Laws are diffrent for the smart rich pedophiles they have lawyers and spin doctors. I want Justice, I want our children safe. If as a tech in a repair shop you had 56000 school kids pic from spying on laptop you service you would be in jail not many of us are rich or have spin doctors

munsch
munsch

So instead of trusting Arbitrary Group of Strangers "A" with my illegally obtained photos, i should trust Arbitrary Group of Strangers "B" to hang on to them and not abuse that power in any way? No thanks.

jacob.riggan
jacob.riggan

I agree with Mike on this. they have violated at least a dozen security laws put in place to protect privacy. The Admins should have used a "questioning attitude" and talk with the school lawyers before implementing this "feature". On the other hand those laws are changing all the time. so its very difficult to keep update

dayen
dayen

Trust must be earn do I trust My goverment No do I trust the School board No Do I trust the Police No remember the book 1984 that what Webcam in the bedroom remiend me of. I vote for freedom to say NO !!! I almost forgot I guess they don't know the word security

dayen
dayen

Spycam the cop in me says kiddie porn, better check the vice principals home computer as he the one who printed a photo taken with laptop webcam of a student in his home, then guestion him at school about his after school actives. child molesters are too often the one who are suppose help our children. wonder what price the access and password to thoese laptop would bring from the kidde porn people ??. all person at the school who had access computer should have their computers and homes check for porn or student pictures and video and all storage divices they have access to. of corse the may only be NAZI not alot of difference. too ! many perverts in our school lately

prpetty
prpetty

If I wanted to locate a laptop that I gave to a student to use, I believe I would incorporate a GPS tracking device that could be switched on if the laptop were reported stolen. It could use cell phone technology and be small enough to be wired into a laptop to where it would be available on battery power...sort of like wake on lan technology.

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