…but erasing it altogether. Staff at Pennsylvania’s Lower Merion School District did something absolutely unforgiveable recently, and they should not be allowed to get away with it.
A decade ago users who attached webcams to their PCs were warned that persons of dubious parentage (PoDP) could hack into those PCs and turn on the webcams to watch whatever was in the field of view.
Little did anyone think that ten years later those PoDPs would turn out to be members of the educational system in the US.
Here’s what is so scummy about this sordid affair: the staff are actually proud of what they did.
Even though – as far as I know (and we’re talking about the American system here, which seems to be able to be violated with impunity if you have the money to defend what you did) – they were not empowered to act like that under any circumstances.
In this case the victim was a young man. Details are sketchy, but his behavior in the privacy of his parents’ home was construed as unacceptable by some assistant principal – who observed the young man without his knowledge or consent by activating the webcam on the boy’s laptop (presumably supplied by the school – it’s not clear). WTF?
It doesn’t take an IQ of 200 to realize just what a can of worms got opened there. Even the police can’t do that kind of surveillance without jumping through legal hoops that require them to justify the need for their actions.
Talk about 1984. In spades.
This incredible violation of privacy is something that is becoming endemic in the US.
My wife and I were victims of identity theft not once but twice. The first time was facilitated by the Postal Service, the Internal Revenue Service and a medical insurance company, the last two of these having sent correspondence containing our full social security numbers to an address from which the Postal Service had been instructed to forward all mail – and they didn’t do as instructed.
(We had also instructed all organizations with whom we corresponded regularly to change our address of record, but obviously those instructions take time to trickle through the various systems.)
At the same time various credit card companies had also sent invitations to apply for credit cards (with supposedly guaranteed acceptance) to the same (former) address and again the Postal Service had not forwarded the mail.
I won’t go into detail as to precisely how a person or persons unknown managed to obtain the unforwarded mail or how many times they successfully obtained credit cards in our names – which were finally forwarded to the new address by the Postal Service, which is when we first had an inkling that something was wrong – but the upshot was that according to the police, we were not the victims – the credit card companies were, and unless they reported the activity, no action was going to be taken.
It’s a long and painful story. Ten years later and we are still experiencing problems directly related to that theft.
Privacy? You Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Privacy!
Google recently set up a service called Buzz – and by default turned it ON, requiring the user to turn it off if they didn’t want to participate. The nasty thing was that Buzz took your contacts’ details and made them available to others if you didn’t realize that you had to act quickly to turn it off (and turning it off was not an easy task, as I found out for myself).
That meant a whole host of problems were created unnecessarily – and all because Google’s staffers didn’t feel that privacy was worth anything these days.
Facebook did a similar thing last year – making private communications and photographs public for the same reason: in their view, no-one should expect privacy in the Internet Age.
That was the final straw for me and I erased everything I could in my Facebook account and closed it (except that it’s not really closed because Facebook retain rights that they claim to the materials; again, something they’re not entitled to do but they did anyway). I will never use Facebook again.
Before that, Yahoo! sold private contact information (email and snailmail addresses) to third parties even though when they originally asked for that information, it was on the condition that it would never be disclosed to others. Again, I found that out the hard way. Luckily for me, Yahoo!’s data had become corrupt so the information was basically worthless.
Sneakily, many providers of services give themselves the power to punish YOU if you attempt to deprive THEM of YOUR personal details. No names, no pack drill – but you don’t have to stray more than a word away from this blog to find one such provider.
Here’s my view: personal privacy is king. I don’t care what privileges others want to give themselves, if I didn’t explicitly authorize access to my personal information, then anyone who takes that access is complicit in identity theft and as such should be punished harshly.
ID theft is the scourge of the US and is fast becoming the same in Europe.
We don’t need organizations that should know better to behave in ways that compromise our security still further.