The road to perdition is paved with good intentions
So Captain Privacy, my friend Martin McKeay has reacted with the expected outrage over the disclosure that a school district in Pennsylvania had installed “spying” software (not spyware mind you, spying software) on some school issued laptops. I won’t bore us all with a recap of what the Lower Merion School District did. You can read the summaries of it here and here, if you have not already heard the facts.
Let me start off by saying using the spying software for any thing other than the legitimate use of tracking down a stolen or lost laptop is wrong! If anyone were to do that, especially without notice to an innocent party, let alone a minor, they are guilty of abuse of power.
But before we go off and castrate the school officials involved and as Martin says those “. . . who instigated and ran this program need to lose their jobs; they obviously don’t have enough of a moral compass to understand the difference between right and wrong and have no right to be working with children and teaching the next generation.”
The people who thought of installing this software may not even be the people who used it. It was a perfectly reasonable assumption they made in any event. In case the laptops were stolen or lost, wouldn’t it be great to be able to find out where they are.
The idea of “spying” on kids when the laptops weren’t stolen was probably just not given a lot of thought. As one of the first school districts to give out laptops to all the children, there was no “book” for them to follow. They were kind of making it up as they went.
Yes this program left open the possibility of abuse in the wrong hands. We would think that school officials would be sensitive to the rights and privacy of minors. We also trust police officers not to violate the rights of the criminals. We trust soldiers not to torture POWs. Sometimes that trust is misplaced. Sometimes people disappoint us when we have trusted them.
The thing about this case though is that much of Martin’s hand wringing is over what could have happened. Only one incident of what did happen. Do we now live in the world of the “Minority Report”, where the thought police are going to prosecute people over their thoughts or worse yet over “what could have happened”.
As much as I don’t want to give up my privacy, I don’t want any thought police or prosecutions over what could have been. Martin and the mob has jumped to worst case scenarios without knowing who these people are, what safeguards may have been in place or anything else.
At the end of the day, anti-theft measures for school owned property is a good thing. This program did not seem to have the proper checks and balances in place to prevent any potential abuse which might have, but did not necessarily occur.
Other school districts should learn from it, but should not be dissuaded from handing out laptops to kids or installing anti-theft technology. I am glad Martin’s kids don’t need to take any computers home. But I assure you that there are millions of kids in the country who do!
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