1984 in 2010: a ZT Influence

My recent blog post analyzing a Zero Tolerance case (Patrick Timoney’s “Gun”) showed just how crazy people can get trying to control others, and their desire to punish non-transgressions just the same as if the person was actually doing something wrong. Most people fully got the point. Others, to my shock, didn’t.

One reader commented on that post, “This does not seem like a ZT case to me. I thought in ZT it was someone following blindly an ‘established guideline.’ Based on the information presented here, it seems to be a person not following established guidelines. Thus not ZT. QEP”

Q Who?

I’m guessing the reader meant “QED” there, an abbreviation for the Latin quod erat demonstrandum, which is used to signify that “the last statement deduced was the one to be demonstrated; the abbreviation thus signals the completion of the proof.” (Wikipedia) Or, in other words, “Thus I have proven my contention.”

The reader’s logic is faulty.

Yes, ZT is a policy, but it’s also a mindset, as I’ve been trying to make clear all along (but I obviously failed in his case). The whole point is that even if an organization has a model policy, as apparently New York City schools does, some people don’t follow it, and instead use a zero tolerance mentality.

The Question, of Course, is Why?

Demand Common Sense!To me, the answer is obvious: kids grow up. And when they grow up in a school where ZT was practiced, or go to (say) a teacher’s college where it was taught, it simply becomes “what they know.” They’re not taught that they must exercise common sense, they literally learn not to apply common sense; that every situation that seems to go against what they think must be a transgression.

Worse, if it seems to be just a little bit bad, there are no escalating levels of response — a transgression always means the worst it could mean, and (of course) the most extreme response is not only called for, it’s necessary. Thus, in the last blog post, the principal insists a tiny toy gun “is a gun is a gun is a gun.” And since “guns are bad” and forbidden, a transgression, no matter how innocent, is worthy of forcing a written confession out of a 9-year-old, which supports suspension from school, which supports expulsion, and in many cases, supports calling in police for criminal charges. That’s what ZT is.

No Way!

But that’s insane, you say. Sure: but we have seen case after case after case of just that. Sometimes, it’s school policy. Yet even when it’s not school policy (such as in New York City), young administrators are practicing what was practiced on them, or taught to them. They’re simply going with what they learned, “reverting to their training” when faced with something that they’re not sure how to handle.

How far might that go? Very far: how about school officials thinking that it’s OK to activate spy cameras in your home to eavesdrop on your private conversations? Hey, no problem if you happened to be in view and are undressed: surely they won’t capture images and post them to the Internet, right? Sure — you can count on their common sense! Yet, in True’s 21 February 2010 issue, there it is:

The Thought Police

Pennsylvania’s Lower Merion School District thought they were at the cutting edge when they provided every high school student a laptop computer for “an authentic mobile 21st Century learning environment.” That may have seemed like a good idea until student Blake Robbins was called in by Assistant Principal Lindy Matsko at Harriton High School. The boy was reprimanded for “improper behavior in his home,” and Matsko showed the proof: a photo taken of him in his home through a camera, which was included in the 2,300 computers. She told Robbins she can activate the camera at will. “Many of the images captured and intercepted may consist of images of minors and their parents … in various stages of dress or undress,” alleges the resulting federal lawsuit against the school. The FBI is assisting local authorities in investigating possible criminal charges. Robbins, 15, says the school accused him of taking drugs, but he was actually eating candy. (Philadelphia Daily News) …Huh: things are just 26 years behind schedule.

But Wait, It Gets Worse

Here’s something scary: my source for this week’s story, the Philadelphia Daily News, ran a survey of site visitors asking whether schools should be allowed to spy on students and their families with cameras in their homes, as was done in the above story.

“Is there any scenario where a school district is justified to monitor students at home?” It’s not a “scientific” (statistically valid) survey since the respondents are self-selected, but look at the results as of this posting:

Yes, there’s hope in the massive “no,” but don’t let that blind you to the rest of the data. Of just over 7,000 people, 181 of them (2.6 percent) think that’s just fine “if the webcam captures illegal activity.”

And 99 more (1.4 percent) think it’s OK “if the webcam captures a student suffering physical abuse.” And 127 more (1.8 percent) are “not sure”!

Consider that most people who go to read that article are there because they’re outraged over the school district’s actions; I think it’s likely that if the respondents actually represented a statistically valid cross section of Americans, the Yes and Not Sure answers would be significantly higher — an Orwellian Big Brother scenario is acceptable to them! Or, at the very least, they’re “not sure” if that would be bad.

Way Too Many Are OK With It or Not Sure!

The only correct answer in a free society is of course “No, there is no scenario where this would be okay.” Yet people brainwashed by ZT and the lack of common sense are starting to think that self-appointed thought police officers should be peering into people’s homes just in case there maybe, perhaps, is something illegal going on there. The end justifies the means.

And this is in the “land of the free” and the “home of the brave,” where our forebears (successfully, or so they thought) fought to the death for individual rights, including the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty (not to mention the right “to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches”).

But now we’re moving toward being fine with government agents secretly looking in “if the webcam captures illegal activity” or “if the webcam captures a student suffering physical abuse”?! Incredible!

The Slippery Slope

Yet isn’t that exactly the next step in the ZT mentality? “No drugs” means “no life-saving medications” means “no help for teen menstrual cramps” means “no candy” means “nothing anything like drugs” at off-campus school functions (because it’s a school function, after all!) means “no candy at home” when you’re sitting at the school-provided computer — or you get hauled into the vice principal’s office and accused of “improper behavior” at home because some idiot can’t see the box of Mike and Ike you’re eating from (a well-known gateway to Hot Tamales). Well, it’s probably drugs, and LOOK! We have the photographic evidence right here, and we’re adding it to your personal disciplinary file!

But that’s what we can expect to get when we don’t say NO to zero tolerance, whether it’s an official policy or “just” the mindset of school officials.

Kids grow up. We must demand that they’re taught common sense, and that something that “looks wrong” isn’t necessarily actually wrong, and that there are degrees of propriety and mitigating circumstances (a toy gun is not a gun is not a gun is not a gun), and therefore, there are appropriate levels of response depending on the situation and the facts at hand.

Because those kids are going to grow up and become the next generation of teachers, school administrators, doctors, cops, construction workers, mechanics, lawyers, engineers, medics, judges and more, and they’ll need common sense to do their jobs right. We must demand common sense!

If we don’t, there will continue to be a “natural” progression toward the worst George Orwell can imagine, and if you didn’t read Nineteen Eighty-Four, let me tell you his imagination was pretty horrific.

More Info:

Update: Example Photo Released

Added 19 April 2010

I’ve been following this story in the Philadelphia Daily News and the Philadelphia Inquirer, and it’s been pretty …interesting.

First, there were two school employees who were allowed access to the cameras: Michael Perbix, a network technician, and Carol Cafiero, the information systems coordinator. Both are 12-year school employees, and both have been put on paid leave. (The assistant principal who confronted the boy is apparently still working.)

Someone made a T-shirt of the Lower Merion School District logo with a “HAL 900” computer “eye” watching all.

“A phone call had to come from the high school to turn [the web cameras] on,” said attorney Charles Mandracchia, who represents Cafiero. “And if it was turned on, it was turned on with the understanding that the computer was either lost or stolen.”

He points out that the system has been used to recover stolen computers, so obviously the police know about the system. The software being used also takes a screen shot of what the student is doing on the computer, and records the computer’s IP (Internet) address, which can help show where the computer is.

Informed Consent? Nope.

The school district admits it never told parents about their ability to use the camera to spy inside their homes whenever they pleased.

In at least one case, the cameras showed the “stolen” computer was in a classroom; the resulting photos showed the teacher (gasp!) was teaching the kids like she was supposed to!

The school says it activated the camera on Blake Robbins’ computer (he’s the kid in the original story) because his family didn’t pay the $55 insurance fee for the computer. So is that a case of it being “lost” or “stolen”?

Cafiero was subpoenaed in the lawsuit, and worked to get the subpoena quashed. She refused to give a deposition as to the scope of the spying. Her attorney says calling her for a deposition is “premature” and “unnecessary,” and says the plaintiff’s attorney would “ambush her” unfairly. “We didn’t say we wouldn’t produce her,” Charles Mandracchia said. “We’re just saying we’re not going to produce her now.”

Mike Perbix, the network technician, did agree to a deposition, as has Lindy Matsko, assistant vice principal who confronted the boy with the photo.

When she did appear for a deposition, Cafiero — who has not been accused of any personal criminal wrongdoing — invoked her Constitutional right to not incriminate herself. “To each and every question I would ask her, other than her name, she asserted the Fifth,” said attorney Mark Haltzman, who represents the boy in his lawsuit.

Not Just a Photo or Two

Haltzman released an example of the more than 400 photos that he has been able to obtain that were taken of Blake Robbins alone — part of what the school district employees were looking at.

That’s Robbins asleep in his bed (right: click to see larger — it’s a high-resolution camera!)

Yep: the school was watching kids in their bedrooms. It’s not the only such photo, Haltzman says, and the photos he has received “includ[es] pictures of Blake partially undressed.”

And Robbins isn’t the only subject, either: there are “thousands of webcam pictures and screen shots have been taken of numerous other students in their homes,” he said. (Source — one of the few articles about this case that are still online.)

Voyeurs: Just the Tech and Cafiero?

Haltzman also obtained an email where a staffer told Cafiero that watching the kids was “a little [Lower Merion School District] soap opera.” Cafiero allegedly responded, “I know, I love it.”

U.S. Senator Arlen Specter, who represents Pennsylvania, isn’t waiting for the lawsuit’s results. He has already introduced legislation to make such unauthorized monitoring against federal law, and has held a hearing on the issue.

“Many of us expect to be subject to certain kinds of video surveillance when we leave our homes and go out each day,” Specter said, “at the ATM, at traffic lights, or in stores, for example. What we do not expect is to be under visual surveillance in our homes, in our bedrooms and, most especially, we do not expect it for our children in our homes.”

Frankly, I disagree: given such power, I do expect it to be abused, so indeed such a law is needed.

Story Update

After a six-month investigation, federal prosecutors declined to fine any criminal charges in the case.

“For the government to prosecute a criminal case, it must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the person charged acted with criminal intent,” said U.S. Attorney Zane Memeger. “We have not found evidence that would establish beyond a reasonable doubt that anyone involved had criminal intent.”

A computer forensics study found the school took and saved 66,503 photos, either through the computer cameras or of the computer screens to see what the students were doing. Slightly more than half were through the cameras. The report also found there were well more than two school employees with access to the system and photos: 18 were system administrators, and 16 of those had access to the photos stored on the server. Some of the photos were forwarded to others.

In addition to Robbins, another student was apparently especially targeted: Jalil Hasan. School officials took 543 screen shots of his computer, plus 469 photos through his laptop’s webcam.

“I was really shocked,” said his mother, Fatima. “They were all pictures of Jalil, and all web shots from his laptop, and that’s not an easy feeling.” Well, not all of them: in addition to shots of the boy in his bedroom, there were photos of other family members and friends. She felt so violated that she also filed a lawsuit against the school district for invasion of privacy.

Both suits were filed in federal court, since they’re civil rights cases.

Settlement

By December, the school board had had enough: after consultation with the district’s insurance company, they settled with both families, paying $175,000 to Robbins, which will be placed in trust for his future, and $10,000 to Hasan. In addition, the school paid $425,000 for their attorney’s fees, for a grand total of $610,000, funded by insurance.

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104 thoughts on “1984 in 2010: a ZT Influence

  1. ZT is nothing new. The name is new, but the concept has been around longer than all of us. In fact, it was the concept of Zero Tolerance that was the basis for much of the Bill of Rights in the Constitution. Too bad that ZT is actually being used to override the Constitution.

    For past generations, you never questioned Authority because that was disrespect. The John Birch Society epitomized that with “America, Love It Or Leave It.” A criticism of any problem in the country was treason against the entire country. A sentiment echoed not so long ago with a recent President.

    How OFTEN have we heard adults say, “Well, the rules ARE the rules,” without questioning WHY they’re the rules? Especially the police. To share an anecdote, one fine day several years ago, I was driving down a street in Detroit when I heard gunfire up ahead. Rather than continue driving into a danger zone, I made a U-turn and went back the other way. It was a one-way street. A cop stopped me for driving the wrong direction. I explained about the gunfire. That was not the issue; the issue was me driving in the wrong direction. I took it up with the court. The judge stated that the law is the law. Pay the fine, please.

    Now, most people would support my position. But enough will side with the cop or the judge. One, the rules are the rules. And secondly, I’m just Joe Citizen and not above making this up (no, it was true). But cops and judges are role models and would never be so intransigent, would they?

    And there is the problem, people; those who believe that Authority is infallible. King George III was just a poor, maligned leader who suffered at the hands of rabble like George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson.

  2. I sometimes think the greatest thing the government could do would be to mandate a week session every school year in every class on how to think for yourself. Talk about the bill of rights. Learn how to tell cops to get a warrant and how to keep your mouth shut. Talk about the difference between the end of your fist and the start of somebody else’s nose, and learn how to grow a thick skin and stop blaming everybody else for your own mistakes.

    And if some student has the nerve to say “Not Me” and walk out of the class, they get an “A” and the rest of the week off — but only the first one.

  3. I agree that ZT is a one way ticket to nowhere. However, I disagree with your opinion of the cause. I’m a teacher and I can say there’s no class we sit through on gun, drug, etc rules. It’s not blindly following a rule that has been taught. In my opinion, the individuals who suffer from ZT are also suffering from a severe case of CYA. Our society is always looking for someone else to blame for their mistake and I think these administrators are so busy thinking what could happen if something went terribly wrong later down the line. What would happen if that 9 year old shows up with a shotgun in 2 years and starts shooting?? Will I be blamed for letting the toy gun go?? This is what administrators think and what leads to the loss (or lack) of common sense shown.

  4. Actually, I’m not surprised considering that Obama recently signed an extension of the Bush eavesdropping laws. In fact, Obama has been extending so many of the Bush policies (along with keeping Bush people) that it’s hard to believe he was elected because of his platform of “change”. He’s changed nothing! He talks like a Democrat but acts like a Republican.

  5. My husband and I attended a lecture a few years ago by a well-known professor who does work on memory, and specifically on falsely implanted memory. She went through various methods of convincing people that something had happened to them when it really hadn’t – showing them a fake picture, having people agree with false memories, etc. She showed a graph of the effectiveness of various methods, but the part which really got our attention was the baseline 7% of people who believe something false with absolutely no evidence. These could be the birthers, alien abductionists, Holocaust deniers – pick the ones you think are absurd. 7% is TWENTY-ONE MILLION PEOPLE in the U.S. So your total of 5.8% idiots is not too far off the baseline. Until it rises above 7%, I figure it’s just noise.

    My point about that is, if the survey had been statistically valid (a true cross-section of Americans), that 5.8% would likely be much higher. I’d guess greater than 7%, but that’s just a guess. And it’s a scary prospect. -rc

  6. More than a decade ago I made clear to my children that using the term “common sense” made absolutely no sense in this day and age. You see, “common sense” means that it is found just about anywhere, that it is usual, that there is more of it than other types of “sense”. We all are aware, even if we fail to recognize it, that people today seem to have more dollars than sense … even in a depressed economy.

    Point of fact: The “common sense” of today is one-sided, blind and unthinking, bound by rules rather than ethics, CYA rather than appropriate cogitation.

    What I advised them to say, the terminology I use which I feel is far more accurate and appropriate, is “uncommon good sense”. If you think about it, it should make good sense to you too.

    The “common” in “common sense” doesn’t mean that it’s found everywhere — it obviously isn’t. Rather, it’s the sense of “shared”. The phrase is from the Latin sensus communis, meaning the “common feelings of humanity”, and has come to mean “sound judgment not based on specialized knowledge.” Thus, sound judgment based upon the common feelings of humanity, rather than specific training. Feelings of connection and justice foster common sense; strict adherence to rules no matter what destroy it. -rc

  7. @Shannon You make sense. (You had better stop before it gets you in trouble). Here in the UK we are about 10 years behind the ZT malarkey which we are importing from the USA. The removal of any kind of personal responsibility and its replacement by corporate zero-tolerance, zero-risk policies is becoming the norm.

    I would like to retain the freedom to choose a proportionate response to any situation. In respect of the law: the law is an ass. That is to say it is the very bluntest of instruments and cannot separate the grey from the black and white. That is why it has no place in our day-to-day decision making such as how a teacher handles an ostensibly racial insult in kindergarten.

    Zero Tolerance = The lowest common denominator given the highest possible power.

    Sigh.

  8. I agree with you about the ZT loonies repeating what they were taught when small. Most children believe whatever the big people tell them and many never grow out of it. But I think it’s still a chicken-and-egg question. How and why did it get started in the first place? I never ran into it when I was young (I’m in my 70s). Even in the military the rules were almost always tempered with a good portion of common sense and the ability to recognize the relative importance of things. This was true even in a combat zone, where issues of safety and discipline are certainly more important than they are in a Philadelphia high school.

    It started as a response to actual problems — guns and illicit drugs in schools — and was fostered by lawsuits, in that they wanted to ensure no one was unfairly targeted (like minorities). The result: everyone is unfairly targeted. I suppose that’s fair in a way…. -rc

  9. This story is confusing as well as frightening, although I’m glad to see that the school is facing prosecution. Was the assistant principal activating the camera remotely, at random times?!?

    As for the people who said in the poll that such monitoring was acceptable, they were probably caught out by the question. Monitoring (by the proper authorities, not by the schools) is indeed acceptable in order to catch illegal activity or abuse, but it’s impossible to know what is going to be seen before indiscriminately activating cameras. Surely that’s the point about freedom from unreasonable searches (and seizures) – that violations of property (and propriety) are justified only in order to corroborate evidence of wrongdoing, not to check to see if there’s any evidence of anything happening in the first place!

    I agree with the “QEP” reader on one level: as you reported it, the principal in Patrick Timoney’s case was applying ZT logic in a district where she didn’t have the power to do so. The “model” policy was giving administrators no more freedom to do the wrong thing than ZT district policies give them to do the right thing. Was not her reversion to the (presumably) familiar was a violation of her training.

  10. The “Yes it’s fine” or “No it’s bad” answers are not the problem. The people with positive or negative opinions aren’t the problem. Those who just allow it to happen will be responsible in the end. I think you should have asked “If this was instituted tomorrow, would you actually DO anything about it?”

  11. I may be in the minority, but I would have answered the Reader Poll conducted by the Philadelphia Daily News in the affirmative. It is a poorly worded question. Is there ANY scenario where a school district is justified to monitor students at home? (emphasis added). Yes. If the illegal activity being monitored is the theft of the laptop.

    My local library allowed patrons to use laptops, several of which turned up missing. In this scenario the use of GPS tracking and web cam pictures is perfectly acceptable, because the individual lost their right to privacy when they stole the computer. Not the facts in this situation, but the question asked if there was “any” scenario. To imply that the 181 affirmative responses are the result of the public accepting an “Orwellian Big Brother scenario” may not be accurate. Of course, that is just my opinion. I could be wrong.

  12. Can I have permission to send this on to two people, my daughter, who was a teacher and now home schools her two kids, and a former navy buddy who taught after retiring from the navy?

    Do you have permission to send the URL to this public essay and debate page to friends? Absolutely. -rc

  13. There seems to be a corollary to the Zero Tolerance mindset, reflected in the pool you’ve shown. It’s the “By Any Means” mindset. It happens when a person becomes so attached to a single ideal that they define themselves by it, and can justify any action in light of it.

    We typically associate the idea with religious zealots, such as Islamic Jihadists, or Christian Crusaders. However, people are more frequently defining themselves by other kinds of ideals, many of the seemingly innocent? After all, who doesn’t want to end child abuse? Who doesn’t want to usher in a utopia?

    Unfortunately, as people dig deeper into issues of human behaviour and morality, they find that these issues cannot be quickly or even completely eradicated without establishing control at the root of the person. So, they end up having to accept a totalitarian perspective to achieve their goal. In the end they must accept “War is Peace,” “Freedom is Slavery,” “Ignorance is Strength.”

  14. What really gets me about ZT is that so many are only upset when the administrator happens to be mistaken. Those teachers could have had photographs of their student selling their bodies for crack, and I would still consider their crime to be FAR worse than what the kid did.

  15. “Others, to my shock, didn’t.”

    For you to be shocked, or even surprised, is amazing after you have dealt with ZT for so long. Anyway, I know that the shock you referred to is about your disappointment and frustration, rather than being at all surprised that some people still don’t get it.

    The person who tried to say this isn’t ZT misses your point that it is really worse than ZT, because the person can’t say, “My hands are tied.” ZT as a mind-set is so much worse than ZT as a formal policy, because it has no boundaries. Your explanation that current and future administrators are growing up with it makes a strong point, and I know that every time you talk about it, more people “get it”. That is what you have to focus on, because you certainly know that not everyone will ever realize how right you are about it.

    By the way, I think you bring up the subject just often enough. More often and you would sound like Rush Limbaugh; less often and people wouldn’t realize how passionate you are (and we all need to be) about it. Good balance, my friend!

  16. Stories aside, the comment that you have written in this blog post and the message that you are conveying are eminently sensible and rational. But does any action pertaining to sense and sanity ever come out of this? I guess what I mean is: does this awareness, created by you amongst your readers, help them in their daily lives, for example, to understand the gaping hole in common sense and exercise in futility that ZT stands for, and protest when such events impinge on their lives?

    I certainly hope so! To be clear, I’m not calling for you or others to jump up and down about this particular case. The idea, over time, is to show these are not isolated incidents, and we all need to be aware of the problem and ensure it doesn’t take root in their own local areas (or, if it already has, which could well be the case in the U.S., and to a lesser extent elsewhere, to speak up forcefully against it). In a macro sense, too, it’s something to bring up with their federal representatives so that there’s awareness that it’s not isolated, and that there is work to be done to get rid of enabling legislation, and replace it with more common-sense measures. -rc

  17. I just read the philly.com article. The one paragraph, sitting all by itself, that really has me scratching my head is this:

    The lawsuit does not specify why the photograph was objectionable.

    What? As if that wasn’t obvious? Let me make it plain. It’s not what is in the picture that is objectionable. It’s the picture itself that is objectionable. Hellooooo!

    @Kausik in Baltimore: ABSOLUTELY Randy’s non-ZT movement is having an effect. I’m living proof. I call it the “ZT inoculation”. Once you’ve had it pointed out, you can pick up on it earlier.

  18. I certainly agree that ZT is bad and a problem that must be corrected. But what I want to comment on is the people who in the survey voted Yes or Not Sure. I agree with Drew, it was a badly worded question, and it’s a real pet peeve of mine when surveys word their questions poorly. Like Drew, I’d have wanted to vote Yes, but I don’t like the additional “if” statements they offered, so, because it’s ambiguous and I’d see the apparently intended meaning as well as the literal one, I’d likely have voted Not Sure.

    The example that came immediately to my mind was akin to the agreements we all accept when we sign up for online services such as Yahoo mail or Facebook accounts. They all have privacy wording, and they all include an exception saying that they may release anything to the appropriate authorities in the case of a criminal investigation.

    Should the laptops be used to monitor students at home at the sole discretion of the school board or school administration the way it was done in this story? No, certainly not. But if such a laptop is in the home of somebody undergoing criminal investigation, and the police follow proper procedures (which I don’t know and may be regionally different, but would be akin to wiretap regulations, requiring a legally obtained warrant of some kind), then certainly the school district could make such monitoring functionality available to the police.

    Therefore, distributing laptops in this way should also include an agreement to be signed by those affected (perhaps head of household) similar to the agreement you must accept to use online resources as I mentioned above. I’m sure the vast majority of laptop users would sign such a document and send it back to the school unread, just like they accept usage terms without reading them in detail. But that’s their choice.

    Anyway, my point was just that while I totally agree that what was done in this case was gross misconduct, I think the survey is meaningless when it comes to speculating why that small minority chose Yes or Not Sure. It doesn’t necessarily mean they think what the Assistant Principal did in this case was correct. It may simply mean that they took the time to think before voting, and realized that “any scenario” encompasses a pretty broad scope.

    You guys aren’t thinking this through clearly. Kevin, you’re saying that if the laptop is stolen you think the police should have the ability to track the machine down (and I’ll add, “preferably with a warrant”). On the face of it, that does sound reasonable! But that’s not at all what the survey is asking. Let me add a bit of emphasis to clarify their question: “Is there any scenario where a SCHOOL DISTRICT is justified to monitor STUDENTS at HOME?” That’s the school district, not the police. Stolen laptop? That’s a police matter. A school monitoring students at home? That’s a police state matter. -rc

  19. These stories are really depressing. It seems that the two school districts were trying to not be too ZT. The one had a policy that stated that ZT was not to be used in cases such as Timothy’s gun, and the other had a policy that the spy camera was only to be activated after the laptop was reported as stolen. In both cases, the school admin violated their own policy to punish students for violating some policy. Considering that the school would probably be all over Robbins for falsely reporting a stolen laptop, they really ignored their own policy. It seems that the person who wrote the policy in both cases had the right idea, such as to not spy on families, and to not use ZT on toy guns. It is such a shame that we are paying these principals to violate school policy and participate in activities of dubious legality.

  20. What I read about the story with the laptop cameras is that the remote activation is part of a recovery system, and that cameras had only been activated 18 times, leading to the recovery of 12 stolen or misappropriated laptops, with only two system administrators having access to trigger this.

    What the administrator told the student was technically correct, they CAN remotely activate the cameras, but they don’t do so at random. It seems to me that what happened here was this student took a picture of himself consuming what appeared to be drugs, using the camera on the laptop and leaving it on the laptop, where once it was connected back to the school network was synced to a server somewhere, after which the administrator became aware of the picture.

    The administrator saw a picture of a student apparently taking drugs, and when she took action based on this, the student said, “No, it was just candy, and I never took that picture!” When the students father contacted the administrator, she admitted that it is technically possible for the camera to be activated remotely, at which point the whole situation exploded.

    Now, I admit to being rather a cynic, so my reaction is, Of course the kid denies taking drugs, but no way would the school open itself up to the hellstorm they’d be subjected to if they actually did what they’re accused of.

    Oh, and the computers in question were Apple Macbooks – you can close them if you’re not using them, the camera is on the top of the monitor. And when the camera is activated, there’s a bright green light that comes on to tell you so, which makes it kind of hard to observe people unawares.

    Your speculation is dubious. The school admits activating the camera and taking the photo, so you assume that the kid took it himself accidentally, and then accidentally uploaded it to a server, where school officials accidentally found it? That’s pretty far-fetched.

    And regarding the “was only activated 18 times” bit. In another place, they say it was 42 times. Next time, will it be 150? 250? 8,794? And if it was only for recovering stolen laptops, why did they activate the Robbins’ camera, when there’s no indication that it was ever stolen? And why was the information used by a vice principal (not 1 or 2 system admins) for disciplinary purposes?

    Sorry, but your suppositions just don’t add up. -rc

  21. Just curious – if the laptops/administrators record pictures of students while they are undressed or even having sex, would that constitute possession of child pornography? What would be the ZT policy on that, fire all the administrators or teachers? If it records the students’ parents? Maybe mom is cleaning while in her underwear since everyone is out of the house, but little does she know that the laptop is sending her image out into the ether. How can they bring a student in for punishment without any evidence of a crime being committed anyway? That was just a huge ball of insanity, can’t imagine what they hoped to accomplish. Since there is a reasonable expectation of privacy in one’s own home, anything obtained, even if a crime had been committed, would likely not be allowed as evidence. So I guess the school administrators would be above/around the law and can administer punishment for crimes real or imagined, regardless of how the “evidence” is obtained. Amazing!

    You’ve grasped it, Susan. This isn’t about gathering evidence that would legally stand up in court. This is about “evidence” that “justifies” in-school punishment. And let’s not forget here that these are government schools, and thus the staff are agents of government. Feeling horrified yet? -rc

  22. RE students “implicitly” signing away their rights to privacy, the other people who might be in that house and be photographed by the school officials — without a warrant – may not even be aware of the laptop’s existence. But more importantly, isn’t photographing the interior of a private house — as in a peeker aiming a camera thru the window — a crime in itself?

    Some of the school officials seem to think they’re in the KGB.

  23. I always say that common sense isn’t common. What we have here is a total disregard for common sense and decency. We’re surrounded by idiots and what makes it worse is they’re reproducing.

  24. If I were, under false pretenses, to sneak a camera into someone else’s house, and/or trick them into bringing said camera into their house, and I used it to place them under surveillance… What would the charge be?

    I don’t know about Pennsylvania, but speaking for Washington state, considering the photographed individuals include minors, in a place where they expect privacy, the charge would be Voyeurism, which is a class C felony. This ignores any potential for child pornography charges (if the minor was less than fully dressed), and merely addresses the act of photography with a concealed camera, in a private residence belonging to someone else.

    Depending on the state, you could also be charged with wiretapping (using technology to listen in to private conversations). -rc

  25. This story has been a hot item in the Phila news for a few days now; the true facts of the case are not yet in evidence – only allegations. Yesterday the asst. principal made a statement that she had never activated a security web cam. Her statement was interesting as much for what it omitted as for what she denied. But the student also made a press statement which avoided clear facts.

    The main point I think we need to grasp here is that *we do not know* what happened. IF the school was routinely monitoring students, this is abhorrent – but that has not been established. The timeline indicates that this event was last fall, but the complaint was filed last week. It has also been revealed that the students who accepted a laptop from the school signed a release form, and were supposed to pay a $55 insurance fee – which this family did not do; there is some question as to whether that has anything to do with the uproar. It has also come to light that this family is litigation-happy, so I’m not sure how much stock to put in their account, either.

    Evidently, once again, the only winners here will be the lawyers.

  26. My daughter is in the Lower Merion School District (although not that high school) and what isn’t in the papers is that kids have been suspended for covering up the webcams. Several students months ago noticed their webcam green lights blinking which told them the webcams were on. When it was reported, they were told that this was a “glitch” in the software. I personally hope that all the photos are audited (by the way, the pictures are posted on a supposed “secure” internal school website). I also hope that if ANY child was caught in a state of undress not only the school, but the school administrators get indicted on Child pornography charges.

    There are other methods of securing laptops including GPS chips and software that survives formatting of the hard disk. Webcam use is totally unnecessary. There is a really great breakdown for the techies (and even some non-techies) about how the IT admin for the school district brags about its use online. You can find the info here: http://strydehax.blogspot.com/2010/02/spy-at-harrington-high.html

  27. What scares me the most about ZT and your comments is the fact that our new and future law enforcement officers are being taught this same frame of mind, and we are seeing some of it already in law enforcement. It’s scary to contemplate because law enforcement, more than most other professions, requires a person that can apply common sense and good judgment to a given situation. I know this from over 26 years experience. Think about it. Would you want some ZT-minded law enforcement officer confronting you in any situation, especially one where your life could be on the line.

  28. Randy, you are SO right! I enjoyed your… ummm.. .rant? against ZT, but just as much the parts about what our children are learning. It’s downright scary to me that anyone could click “Not Sure” or “Yes, as long as there is criminal activity”! George Orwell was slightly ahead of his time, yes? Keep telling it like it is, Randy. People (and sheeple) need to know what we’re up against!

  29. WOW! Randy… Astounding.

    “Is there ANY circumstance where I feel even the potential of such “spying” should be made available TO POLICE?”

    Yes… If the student’s life was known to be in danger (kidnapping, child porn ring, that sort of thing…) and it was hoped that such spy-ware actions could reveal the student’s location and help save a life.

    “Is there ANY circumstance where I feel even the potential of such “spying” should be made available TO SCHOOL OFFICIALS?”

    NO! NO! NO! NO! Never!

    AND: I can see why you think you have fallen into a time/space warp back to 1984 (The Book). A stolen laptop can be much more effectively tracked and recovered in other, less nightmarish, ways.

    My goodness, have none of the people involved in this case ever heard of an insignificant little document called “The Constitution?”, or a section called “The Bill Of Rights”?, or a little something called “The Miranda Act”? I am flabbergasted by this garbled laptop-gate incident… Yes, Nixon did some good things… But the break-in and the taping, were still wrong – amongst other actions and inactions. Good grief, America, wake up! (Before it is too late for the rest of us!)

    I am often tempted to ask that the USA forward Old Glory, The Constitution, and the Declaration of Independence to me, where I will safe-keep them…. Until it is ready to have them given back… But, because there are still some fine RESPONSIBLE people like you (and co.) living there, I refrain. Thus, I feel these historical heritages are still safe, and merited in your homeland. (Though much less than they once were.) There may be some faults in the words and music to “The Star Spangled Banner”… Ah, but the ideals! They were correct!

    I bet 500 Quatloos that within a year, this story, albeit highly fictionalized, will be an episode of “Law and Order”. I also bet 500 Quatloos more, that in 3 years, it will be a movie. (Michael Moore, perhaps?) In a sense, though, this might be good. Could it make people start thinking? And taking/demanding action?

    Mind you there are still too many unknown details in this case, to make full judgement. Still, you are quite right in pointing out just how wrong and scary the mere occurrence of this sort of thing is.

    We are on a slippery slope, not only in the USA, but in Canada, and England, and… Let us hope we regain control, soon. Lest Lincoln’s words (amongst others) no longer hold true.

  30. It’s rare that I’m shocked by anything I read on TRUE, or anywhere else online. But this is one of those moments.

    I sincerely hope Ms Matsko receives the maximum possible sentence for her crimes. And not only that, everyone else involved. A company had to supply the laptops, a company had to arrange for such software to be on them. Those companies should have known who the laptops were being sold to, and that the intended use was illegal. They deserve the maximum possible fines – normally I don’t like “making an example” but in this case it will send a clear message out to others.

    But a more pressing matter – has each and every one of the other families with children at that school been notified. Have they all been told to cease using the laptops, and exactly why? It’s quite possible Ms Matsko isn’t the only person able to access them, and also possible (if unlikely) they’ve been hacked.

    And forget ‘investigating possible criminal charges’. The police need to confiscate all Ms Matsko’s computers, and all the laptops, and all the school computers ASAP. Before any evidence can end up wiped, either deliberately or accidentally.

    I understand many parents have been covering the cameras (but I wonder about microphones!), and some report they’ve seen the activity lights on in the past. -rc

  31. I’m sure you recall the psych class experiments decades ago where some students were told by their professors it was okay to administer electric shocks to others, and that “this dial allows you to increase the strength of the shock you administer.” The shockees had been coached (unknown to the shockers) to express extreme discomfort as the level was raised. Never mind. Shockers happily raised the level when responses were wrong to a test. People will do what authority tells them it’s okay to do. Behavior of many in the Holocaust is proof enough of that. So I don’t think it’s the ZT policy that’s responsible. I think it’s people’s desire to be told what’s permissible.

  32. ZT is just another part of the wave of political correctness that has overcome the US – and most of the western world as well – and, if allowed to continue unabated, will probably be one of the primary causes of the downfall of western civilization.

    Unfortunately I have to disagree with one point you made regarding common sense. It is very often not something that can be taught. Sometimes it’s either there or not. We’ve all known someone who is brilliant most of the time but spends an inordinate amount of time with his foot in his mouth. All it really takes is a little critical thinking and logic prior to acting – or opening ones mouth as it were – and much of the problems with ZT would disappear like magic.

    Also, on another semi-related point made by Pierre above, I shudder to think of the load of pro ZT, socialist crap Michael Moore would come up with should he ever decide to make another of his manifestos disguised as cinema.

    We definitely disagree. I’m not saying one can be taught to be a brilliant thinker, but people DO have to be taught how to think, how to study, how to come to conclusions. We’re not doing that in schools today, instead teaching “follow the rules”. Teaching “You have to think, consider, weigh evidence, and come to a reasonable conclusion” is not only smart, it …well… just makes sense. -rc

  33. First I want to say how much I appreciate your emails. The fact is “common sense” seems to be losing ground. How anyone could think it was right to spy on anyone in that person’s home is beyond me. Of course I get the feeling it means “except for me.” I of course agree with the rest of your comments.

  34. I’d like to clarify, in response to:

    “Your speculation is dubious. The school admits activating the camera and taking the photo, so you assume that the kid took it himself accidentally, and then accidentally uploaded it to a server, where school officials accidentally found it? That’s pretty far-fetched.”

    As you present it, that is pretty far fetched, however I didn’t say the student accidentally took the picture, nor that he accidentally uploaded it; My supposition is that the student intentionally took the picture for his own use, not aware that it could be accessed elsewhere, and that the computer synced with a server in the school automatically, not accidentally.

    I’m looking at this as largely in parallel to a situation when I was in high school; someone borrowed a digital camera from the school and while they had it used it to take pictures of themselves and their friends drinking beer and smoking various substances, then left the pictures on a disk in the camera when they returned it.

    As far as the school administrator admitting to actively taking the photo in question, I haven’t seen any reports of such an admission being made — they’ve that it is possible, yes, that it has been done? I have yet to see that.

    I’m not advocating unrestricted monitoring of students in their homes, and if there was in fact abuse of the (missing laptop recovery) system, it should be identified and punished severely, but if we rid ourselves of everything that has the potential for abuse we’d all be living along in caves bludgeoning any strangers with a rock.

  35. While I agree that ZT is a symptom of the ills of our society I don’t think it’s solely a problem of the “conservative” mindset or the “liberal” mindset or even the”libertarian” mindset. ZT stupidity crosses all of the lines. Take, for instance, that attack on our civil liberties, the misnamed Patriot Act. Passed by an allegedly conservative congress and signed by a supposedly conservative president was renewed by an allegedly liberal congress and signed the supposedly liberal president. ZT stupidity easily crosses all ideological lines.

  36. As a network engineer who deals with security this strikes home. Your position that this is a ‘zero tolerance’ problem is absolutely correct – someone, or rather several people were not thinking. Worse, by accepting the authoritarian philosophy rather than a post-enlightenment rationalist viewpoint they never considered the (to a rationalist) view that competing requirements need to be weighed, considered and judged in context.

    The lojack software used is very useful for computer recovery – presumably installed because of fears that expensive school resources could and would go missing. You may be familiar with it; the software is hard to detect and periodically attempts to check in with the central web site. On checking in it then goes back to sleep – unless the owner reports the computer stolen. Then the software reports its network address and intervening connections, which allows it to infer a location. It also can send pictures with any attached camera, hopefully of the perpetrator for recovery and prosecution. Recovery rates are very high, and controls exist to prevent accidental activation.

    The problem appears to be that someone decided to activate the software in advance. That implicates someone in IT as well as the asst. principal either by omission (access to activation passwords should be strictly controlled) or commission, granting access without evidence of a theft or contacting law enforcement. If law enforcement is involved (I hope not) then at least 3 people are implicated.

    The point here is that the tool (lojack and its open-source counterparts) are not to blame. Blame rests, as you pointed out, on the people who cannot judge moral issues for themselves and make blanket zero tolerance decisions. I hope that part of whatever sentence they get includes classes in logic and ethics. More education is no guarantee, but it may help.

  37. This has been a mess. I live near this school district so I’ve seen it all over the news. this lady claims that she never activated the webcam. She says that the school district only activates webcams of laptops reported missing and that she can’t do it. but I can’t believe that this kid would just make up a story about being called in to her office to get yelled at for “inappropriate behavior.” I do not believe this kid took the picture himself – nowhere in the news has that been mentioned.

    Haha, As for the survey, I’m on of the 7000 people who took it. I voted it’s wrong for any reason and was surprised that there were people who thought it was right.

    She could be telling the truth, that she can’t and never has activated the web cams. But note she didn’t say she wasn’t given the pic, and didn’t say she didn’t confront the kid. What she doesn’t say may be more important than what she did say. -rc

  38. Randy, you write: “We definitely disagree. I’m not saying one can be taught to be a brilliant thinker, but people DO have to be taught how to think, how to study, how to come to conclusions. We’re not doing that in schools today, instead teaching “follow the rules”. Teaching “You have to think, consider, weigh evidence, and come to a reasonable conclusion” is not only smart, it …well… just makes sense. -rc”

    Well, I disagree with you about the real cause and the cure for ZT. The tip-off is that some people are on to things when they’re a child. I grew up in the South, but realized early that I was being taught BS. How to study, how to come to conclusions etc., is not enough. Lenin was certainly a brilliant, logical thinker but look what he came up with. The magic ingredient is what hipsters used to call “soul” — which includes valuing the dignity and humanity of the individual and putting that first instead of statistics, categories, safety, authority. There are lots of people who dropped out of school early but have more wisdom than the typical Harvard grad.

    I never said that was a complete solution — it would take a book to describe that. What I suggest is “necessary, but not sufficient” …which I think most would realize if they thought about it! -rc

  39. Are you sure it’s not a gag?

    If not… Pray and arm yourself. Because in that case time for civil measures is long gone – it’ll take either divine intervention or revolution to salvage the situation.

    What’s funny, a lot of people would call this a sign of coming communism. I was born in USSR, and I attended soviet school. I’ve even been pioneer, for crying out loud. Yet for me, this… perversion, it’s simply unbelievable. Not even in my worst dreams I’d imagine school authorising surveillance equipment for my own home.

    I am curious, and I like the news from all over the world. But I feel like skipping news from USA lately – they’re always fear and loathing.

  40. I can understand a ‘nanny cam’ being installed in a single house by a school where a student has come in with more than his or her fair share of bruises and other injuries, if, of course, the police or social services asks the school to do so.

    But it sounds to me that in this case, the cameras were placed in the home without an prior reason. And I can find no justification for that. It is not the school’s business what a child does at home, unless we are talking about the situation I mentioned above. And even in those cases, it should be social services and not the school that makes the final decision regarding the case in question.

    The police don’t ask civilians to do surveillance. If there’s probable cause to see inside someone’s home, the procedure is to ask a judge for a warrant. No other scenario is acceptable to the Constitution. -rc

  41. “It is not the school’s business what a child does at home, unless we are talking about the situation I mentioned above. And even in those cases, it should be social services and not the school that makes the final decision regarding the case in question.”

    The schools have taken the idea that they act “in loco parentis” or whatever the expression is, and have run wild with it. Imagine the power! And just a year ago, I was only some inadequate ninny studying to be a teacher!

  42. I will stipulate that not all of the facts are out, and I do not have perfect knowledge. I wish others would do the same.

    A few points, and many questions, if I may: a) the laptop belongs to the school. b) The parents supposedly did not pay the fees that were needed (the insurance fees noted in some other posts) in order to take the laptop home. The laptop was not at school; ergo, it would have been seen as missing. Is that a good enough reason to use lo-jack? Why not? They could use it to check whether it was actually stolen or just at home with the student. Many here claim that at that point it becomes a police matter. Seriously? Even when the likelihood is that it was taken home by the kid? Now who isn’t using common sense? Wouldn’t it have been more like a ZT story if the school had called the police to report a stolen computer in this case and tried to have him arrested? I’m imagining the dunderheaded administrator’s words now, “We have a zero tolerance policy of theft here at XYZ School, and little Whatshisname was not authorized to take the computer, so it’s definitely theft.” Is it at all possible that the kid was called to the principal’s office because he took the computer home without permission, with some unknown explanation (sue-happy liars, perhaps)? I freely admit that I do not have all of the facts, and it is entirely possible that people in the school district were behaving horribly. However, there are entirely plausible — and maybe even likely — scenarios in which the school did nothing wrong.

  43. This man is a representative of the United States Government. He performed countless illegal searches into the homes of minors.

    He should be charged with abuse of power, illegal wiretapping, illegal search and seizure, and creation and possession of Child Pornography. He will then be put on the sex offender list and not be able to be anywhere near school grounds. This will also mean that he will be unable to get any non-trivial job, as he would fail every background check immediately. He should then be banned from all governmental jobs due to gross crimes against the constitution.

    If I had my way, governmental abuse of power would be punished by being drawn and quartered, but what do I know?

  44. @ Drew, Overland Park. No! There is no scenario where any non-law enforcement organisation should be permitted to remotely activate a camera (Or configure it to take and transmit an image when certain conditions are met. In this case when the computers is woken from sleep mode.) when that camera is on another’s private property. Or in any place where the possessor has a reasonable expectation of privacy. Even if in fact they did steal the laptop.

    And since there is absolutely no way of knowing exactly what might be captured by a camera built into a portable device at the time of its activation or where it is at that time, there exists absolutely no possible scenario to permit the inclusion of such functionality in the first place.

    GPS (Lowjack) tracking provides all the functionality necessary to recover a missing laptop without the risk of violating the privacy rights of innocent parties.

    @ Jorn. Yes the light does come on. But for only a short period of time when used to capture a single still image, which is how this particular piece of software is configured to work. Furthermore, multiple students had in fact seen the light flash and when they asked about it, were told not to worry it was just a glitch.

    #2 Read the lawsuit. Essentially it is claimed: The kid was hauled up and confronted with picture. When he asked where it was obtained, was told about the existence of the software (LANRev). BTW: The District did not disclose that it was using such software until AFTER the lawsuit was filed.

    Logical conclusion: The software was indeed used to obtain the image.BTW: Buried in the fecal tempest is a statement by the district saying that the kid did not pay his insurance and thus was justified in activating the monitoring “feature” on his laptop when he took it home.

    It is one thing for stupid idiots to leave evidence of their wrongdoing where others can find it. It is another thing entirely to go fishing where you have no right to be, and then use found evidence to justify the intrusion.

    @ Pierre. The potential for misuse and abuse is such that your far out scenario just plain does not justify the inclusion of such functionality. Not to mention that any such hypothetical low life who has watched more than one episode of SVU would ditch the kid’s cellphone, lappy and any other bit of kit that might call home, rendering the existence of such functionality moot.

  45. This story is a perfect storm of issues you write about regularly — bureaucratic idiocy, zero tolerance, and outrageous lawsuits.

    LMSD is where I live and the place is atwitter (literally) with stories and rumors about what really happened. LMSD admits to a serious error in not informing students and parents that web cams on school-issued laptops could be activated remotely. How they could have “overlooked” this in a district renowned for its high percentage of aggressive lawyers is beyond me.

    The rest is all allegation and hearsay. There is no evidence that the story told by student at the center of this is true. The teacher denies having a photo of him at home and denies accusing him of taking drugs. The School District denies using the webcams in any cases except when a computer was reported stolen or lost. There is certainly no evidence that kids were spied on. The laptop in this case was not authorized to be removed from the school.

    Some things are for sure — our school taxes will go up, lawyers will get rich, and education will suffer as teachers and students are distracted, defensive, and distrustful.

  46. Thank you once more for your commitment in this matter. Not only in the US is it important to confront this mindset, and not only in schools.

    Your reference to Orwell would almost appear too tame, given some real situations.

    So true. I almost went with “Orwell didn’t have a very good imagination,” but I revisited his work and his imagination was indeed pretty dire. It’s worth a revisit. I’m also glad you recognize this isn’t just an American problem. We may have pioneered this idiocy, but it’s spreading. You can’t say you haven’t been warned! -rc

  47. @Ben of Houston, who listed all manner of punishments he would inflict on the accused wrongdoer in this case, ending with being drawn and quartered. I understand you’re upset by the prospect of invasion of privacy, but your reaction smacks of intense zero tolerance in itself. Let’s let the facts come out before we inflict punishment, shall we?

    @Sandy, PA, who said, “The rest is all allegation and hearsay.” This is the most intelligent thing I’ve seen written about this incident so far. Facts are few and speculation is rampant. I suggest stepping off the various bandwagons and wait for actual evidence before leaping back onto them. Opinions about the cameras existing at all are fine, but most opinions I’ve seen expressed here about events that actually transpired in this case are premature.

  48. Scott from Connecticut: Didn’t you get the memo, if I am only doing what I was told then I am not responsible for the outcome. HA!

  49. There is a way to end this ZT nonsense, but it would take what was once called “gumption.”

    Every time a supposed transgression happens, and one student gets suspended/arrested/harassed for it – then EVERY student does the exact same thing – over and over and over again.

    A kid scribbles a picture of a gun and gets hauled away by the thought police? Then how about 600 kids drawing pictures of guns – every day they sit in indoctrination… errr… school.

    A kid gets suspended for “handling” an aspirin? 600 kids come to school with an entire bottle of aspirin, and place those bottles on their desks.

    Some little girl gets the 3rd degree for having a pair of plastic scissors? 600 kids come to schools – each with a pair of plastic scissors they place conspicuously in front of the wardens… sorry… teachers.

    Pretty soon the powers that be will realize they can’t punish everyone all the time. If the entire school is suspended – then who needs teachers?

    As my good friend Jack once coined: ZT=IA (Zero Tolerance = Infinite Absurdity)

    (And please – all of you who will now cry havoc, crying alligator tears saying… “But what if someone gets cut with one of those scissors, or some kid actually opens up that bottle aspirin… yada yada yada…”

    Give the children a bit of credit – they often have more on the ball then we realize! And if it does happen – well – that’s just a part of life, live with it.)

  50. Very well written. I couldn’t agree with you more. It sort of reminds me of that period during the reign of “King George the W” when we were being warned to watch out for the vicious ne’er-do-wells and evil-doers who might be buying ***gasp!*** world almanacs.

    And your warning “the box of ‘Mike and Ike’ you’re eating from (a well-known gateway to Hot Tamales)”…and what’s worse is this could march our children right down the road to…I can barely speak the words…MILK DUDS!

  51. My husband made an excellent point with all of this ZT about guns: What if your last name is Gunn? Will little Susie or Johnny be suspended for bringing Dad to school for show and tell? “For career day I brought my Dad, Tom Gunn.” I can see the headlines now: 3rd Grader Suspended for Bringing Tommy Gunn to School.

    Yes, it sounds ridiculous, but I think suspending a kid for playing cops and robbers or bringing a Lego gun to school is equally ridiculous. Zero Tolerance equates to Zero Thought. Where is this going to end?

    Other ZT issues are just as bad. My own son has been threatened with suspension for sexually harassing another boy: he and another boy were playing the “I’ll pee in your urinal while you pee in mine”. Both boys were six years old, the only ones in the bathroom at the time, and jointly fooling around. When we talked to the other boy’s parents about it, they said that they had been told that *our* boy was the one who felt harassed. Both boys were thoroughly confused since they thought it was just a game. We finally discovered that it was the *female* teacher who came into the *boys* bathroom to get them who was supposedly the one who was sexually harassed. The school couldn’t even tell the parents the truth when they were threatening to discipline their kids!

    My son (now 8) has just been threatened with suspension over calling a classmate a monkey. First of all, my husband and I call both our kids monkeys when they’re acting up, so that’s the context he’s most used to hearing the word used in. Second, the girl was actually acting like a monkey! She was doing the “ooh-ooh-ooh, aah-aah-aah” thing and scratching under her armpits. My son said she was a monkey and the teacher went ballistic.

    Did I mention that the girl is Black?

    He was accused of making racist comments and given a disciplinary citation. It took confronting the principal with the facts of the issue to keep the boy from being suspended. We couldn’t get him to retract the citation.

    Clearly, even if there is a perfectly reasonable and legitimate reason for doing something, even if the people most directly affected are not offended, the administration can still choose to jump to the worst possible conclusion and dole out punishments. It’s almost enough to make me homeschool my kids.

    These won’t make the news, but if it hadn’t been for Randy’s advocacy against this kind of thing I might not have felt as secure in challenging the school’s rules as I did. Thank you, and keep up the fight against obliviots!

  52. I remember reading something Charles Dickens said about crime and punishment in 19th century Great Britain, about how a thieves and murderers were both given the death penalty for their respective crimes, and he said if both crimes award the death penalty what is there to stop a thief from murdering witnesses?

    It kind of makes me think of ZT. If the punishment for bringing a lego gun is the same as the real deal, then what’s to stop a 9 yr old bringing to school a real hand gun? After all in the eyes of ZT both guns are considered an equal threat.

  53. Randy, It’s just like you to cut to the end and not even tell the entire story. To not consider that Sweet Tart’s are the gateway drug to Mike and Ike’s or at least mention it is an outrage. I will be viewing your reaction to this on my computer via your webcam.

    SweeTarts are unfairly maligned. They are no worse than lolipops, which are legal and sanctioned by society, and in fact SweeTarts have medicinal value when used properly and in moderation. -rc

  54. I simply want to remit my comment about how this article induced me to think about the ethical requirements now they add onto a degree requirement. I trust that you would well agree that a common sense course would probably be necessary. On another note, such ZT has almost become the stereotype of the “freedom” of America. Perhaps not too closely related, I want to question the reason behind those who report parking violations at stores with signs “only for customers at XXX.” America seems to have developed a taste for denouncing others without gain (even scarier than when profit was motive, I’d say).

  55. Since when did Hot Tamales become a gateway drug? I been eating them for years and never went into anything stronger. Well, there was that one time….

  56. Thomas from Birmingham (didn’t say if it’s here or the UK) said “And forget ‘investigating possible criminal charges’. The police need to confiscate all Ms Matsko’s computers, and all the laptops, and all the school computers ASAP. Before any evidence can end up wiped, either deliberately or accidentally.”

    According to http://www.wired.com/images_blogs/threatlevel/2010/04/webcamscam.pdf that has been ordered. On another list, someone said that given the length of time since the original story broke, she’s probably already had enough time to have reformatted all the drives. Given that “Many of the images captured and intercepted may consist of images of minors and their parents … in various stages of dress or undress,” I have to wonder if the drive most urgently in need or reformatting is Ms. Cafiero’s sex drive.

  57. …56,000 images? So much for “only if we thought they were lost or stolen!” Not to mention that if only two people were supposedly allowed to access the cameras, a) they were damn busy to rack up that many, and b) what were they doing passing them all around enough that other staff members are emailing them about enjoying the “soap opera”? Bullshit!
    There’s a voyeur lurking in every one of us. Many of us manage to restrain the impulse even when given the opportunity to spy on someone else’s private life; others don’t (which is where tabloids and paparazzi get 99.999% of their readership). These people were reveling in it.

  58. I have been a subscriber to your various newsletters for several years, and This Is True has evoked a strong emotional response in me (not for the first time) in reporting this case. I am not a big fan of labels for people and their behavior. I favor responsibility over excuses, but obliviot fits well.

    And to be honest, I’m not entirely sure that this particular case is really representative of a typical ZT abuse. But whatever name it’s given, abuse it is! I think that if the evidence bears out the alleged inappropriate actions by some members of the school district, then some heads need to roll, to send a strong message that such behavior by supposedly “responsible” government officials, is intolerable, and will NOT be dealt with lightly.

    A couple of readers have said that the evidence isn’t all in yet, and we shouldn’t let conjecture rule our actions. A laudable point, and one which is difficult to respect when emotions run high. However, it is precisely when emotions are high, that proper judgment is most needed.

    Keep plugging away, Randy. You continue to make more people aware of the issue every day. And it’s just possible that one day, the person that will be in a position to spark some definitive action against ZT, and FOR CS, will do so because of an awareness that YOU fed.

  59. You say Cafiero “has not been accused of any personal criminal wrongdoing” but “took the fifth”. The article linked to by Bob says there is an FBI investigation into wiretap violations underway, so even if there have been no formal accusations yet it is probably prudent. What I can’t understand is why there haven’t been charges of some sort laid by now. It surely must be illegal under state and/or federal law to engage in conduct like this. Isn’t it?

    It’s prudent not to rush into things. Investigations are running, and indeed could result in charges. But it’s best not to levy charges until there’s enough evidence available to get a conviction. So I think investigators are playing it smart. -rc

  60. Randy, you say “Frankly, I disagree: given such power, I do expect it to be abused, so indeed such a law is needed.” I’m not quite sure what you’re disagreeing with: the Senator says that there is an expectation of freedom from surveillance in the home (which the law already grants in various respects), and that therefore laws are needed where this has not been observed; you agree that this is necessary. An expectation of something is based on accepted and enforced rights, not on the unregulated state of affairs.

    I’m not sure I can say it any differently. The senator says the public should be able to expect privacy; I’m saying that when government agents are given peeping tools, the public should expect them to use them to invade that privacy. We may be saying similar things, but we’re coming from entirely different directions. -rc

  61. I shudder to think of the language in the law that Congress may enact to deal with this. It will likely be overreaching and ban the reasonable uses of the technology (e.g. tracking laptops reported as stolen).

    It can be written poorly, yes — Congress has shown an amazing lack of understanding about technology. But it can be written well, too, and obviously needs to be. The caution you implicitly urge is definitely called for. -rc

  62. On February 27, 2010, Thomas from Birmingham wrote:

    I sincerely hope Ms Matsko receives the maximum possible sentence for her crimes. And not only that, everyone else involved. A company had to supply the laptops, a company had to arrange for such software to be on them. Those companies should have known who the laptops were being sold to, and that the intended use was illegal. They deserve the maximum possible fines – normally I don’t like “making an example” but in this case it will send a clear message out to others. (Emphasis added)

    Nobody has reacted to this yet!

    In my opinion, Thomas’s remarks expose a mindset that is suspiciously close to the ZT policies that he’s helping to rail against:

    — Some school administrators have punished kids for perfectly innocent actions that happen to SLIGHTLY resemble illegal acts (like drawing a PICTURE of a gun)

    — After 9/11, some otherwise-reasonable people wanted to condemn the flight schools that taught terrorists how to fly a plane, even though they had (horrors) dark skin!

    — Thomas doesn’t just want to punish the people that installed spyware in the laptop computers that kids brought into their houses – he also wants to punish the people that sold the laptop computers to the school in the first place!
    All three of these are equally ridiculous.

    First, how does anybody prove their “intended use” for anything that they buy?

    Imagine going to a computer store. You spend an hour comparing various models, and finally pick out a model that seems pretty fast, but it’s in your budget… Now, prove that you aren’t going to send spam, browse for porn, send anonymous threats, hack into any bank accounts, etc.

    Imagine going to a car dealer. Eventually you find the car you want. Now prove that you aren’t going to drive drunk, if you have an accident you’ll stick around, you’ll never allow the registration to lapse, etc.

    Imagine going to a grocery store. Prove that you’re going to use that rat poison on rats, instead of on your neighbor’s husband. Prove that you’re not going to make a bomb out of that chlorine bleach you just bought. Prove that you aren’t going to let those tomatoes get rotten, then throw them at someone. What’s your “intended use” for that toilet paper, anyway?

    Second, even if I did want to ask someone to prove their “intended use”, I would think the fact that my customers were representing a large public school would constitute the needed proof:

    — “Hey, what is your intended purpose? You aren’t going to use this computer to send out spam, or spy on your neighbors, or conduct spy operations… or are you?”

    — “Heck no! These laptops are for our students – they’re going to use them to turn in school work!”

    — “Oh! Thank god. For a minute I thought you were subversive… But you’re from a school! I think I’ll give you an academic discount!”

    — “Oh! …Thanks!”

    Silly.

  63. I find it reprehensible that these people are hiding behind their lawyers, with a very obvious backpedal on the reasoning behind the camera. Was it a “soap opera” or was it an attempt to recover a stolen laptop? Absolute lunacy. I think these people should be brought up on trespassing charges since that is basically what they did.

    New Jersey is becoming a state of ZT in and of itself, and if I didn’t own a home here I would consider moving immediately.
    I’m not sure if you’re aware, but where I live in NJ requires a firearms permit to purchase a toy gun. If one is in possession of one of these “Airsoft” type toys without the requisite firearm purchaser ID as well as a permit for the toy itself, he or she faces jail time.

    Just a quick addition to the circus that is the state of NJ — there is a bill to defeat e-cigarette smoking in public that rewrites the definition of “smoking” as “any process of inhaling tobacco and exhaling smoke, or any other substance or vapor that can be inhaled and exhaled.”

    I feel terrible for asthmatics in particular since their inhalers would then be illegal to use in public, but I also feel for the other residents of New Jersey who will be breaking the law by merely breathing.

  64. Funny that a lawmaker thinks a new law is necessary to protect against such intrusions. There are already laws for such protection. Imagine someone sneaking into your home to install surveillance equipment and you discover its presence. You think you have no criminal recourse against the perpetrators? Just because a tenant unwittingly carried the equipment inside does not give tacit approval. Approval still requires knowledge. In order to protect themselves, the perpetrators would need clearcut documents spelling out the surveillance capability, the conditions of usage, and a special acknowledgment that the tenant knows, understands, and accepts the surveillance capacity.

    Even in a public setting, an individual may still retain a certain expectation of privacy. For example, I can’t use a highly directional audio pickup device to record your conversation from 1000 feet away, even though you’re in the middle of a public park.

    Typical hoopla of lawyers and politicians to crow about MORE laws for a situation, all to APPEAR to be doing something, rather than actually doing something by ENFORCING the current laws.

  65. As one of your most Brilliant founding fathers said:

    “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

    Well said, Ben Franklin!

    No liberty nor safety for these idiots!

    The problem, however, is that if those ZT morons are punished, many government officials in the us should be as well, since many national security laws are bordering on what was done with this high school’s computers.

    And the so called “war on terror”, starting with the massive lie about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq when they were none, follows the very same guidelines.

    More power, more abuse, more human suffering and more taxpayers dollars for what?

    The illusion that someone is “taking care” of the problem?
    (and chuckling all the way to the bank)

    ZT is not only a domestic policy, but an international idiocy as well!

    (Do not worry about possible antiamericanism here: stupidity has no borders and us Gauls have our very fair share on our side of the Atlantic.)

  66. When all is said and done I hope they are also filing child pornography charges against all involved in viewing these images. Based on the description there were at photos of barely dressed minors, possibly nude for all we know as the case is still ongoing.

    Let’s not overspeculate here. The evidence needs to drive the charges, not the other way around. -rc

  67. My understanding of Zero Tolerance, when I first encountered the concept many years ago, was that it meant that any infraction, no matter how small, would be punished. This is crucially different from a policy where any activity that bears even a remote (sometimes imaginary) resemblance to an infraction should be punished, and where all (purported) infractions automatically receive the maximum possible punishment.

    Don’t get me wrong – I am not arguing in favor of any form of Zero Tolerance. This story made me very angry, and in my own life I work to counter this kind of ‘thinking’ whenever the situation arises. I just wanted to point out that the original idea and the current practice of Zero Tolerance are not at all the same.

    I suppose, given our contemporary culture, it was probably inevitable that a policy that started out strict and unforgiving has, in the hands of ignorant authority figures, morphed into something draconian and almost surreal.

  68. They should include in the federal law that computers given to students from a school CANNOT have a webcam on them.

    That said, I’ve recently looked at buying a new laptop, do not want a webcam and am finding it difficult to get what I want without one, in a brand that I would consider buying.

    There was a report on my local news a few years ago. They showed a parent how easy it was for someone to get access to the webcam on his young daughter’s desktop computer – without them being aware of it.

  69. I have been following this story, feeling absolute horror!

    All the people involved should be brought up on criminal charges! I can’t even imagine what these people were thinking when they chose to invade the privacy of these children in their own homes. Yup…It’s now 1984!

    On the ZT weapons issue: A number of years back, our nephew lived with us during the 4th grade. His grandfather had sent him a small Swiss Army Knife, one little tiny blade and a few cool gadgets. He took it to school one day, and was showing it to a friend. Someone saw it, and reported him. OOOOHHH what a mess that was! Fortunately, common sense prevailed; they determined he didn’t intend any harm, he just wanted to show off his new toy to a friend. So he was warned not to bring it again. It could have been much worse, like some of the stories you have told.

    Back when I was in school, most boys carried a pocket knife, and nobody thought anything about it!

  70. When I was a boy, in a galaxy far away and long ago (40’s & 50’s in rural Alabama), ALL boys carried a pocket knife of some sort, or a sheath knife. As a retired Naval officer and former sailor, I still carry a small Buck knife (except when traveling on airplanes!!!) and find innumerable uses for it. It would be practically impossible to do serious harm to anyone with it, but it’s a KNIFE! (We all go into shock now!) I fully agree with the blogmaster here, that ZT is the abrogation of common sense, and in many cases, of common decency. I’ve heard the term used of “sheep mentality”. Personally, I think that might be an improvement over what we have now!

    Well, you know how untrustworthy retired Naval officers are! We must protect against your killer instincts! (Ow: I just hurt myself rolling my eyes so hard.) If you want to read a real airline outrage against a military man, though, see the first story here. It hasn’t gotten much better since. -rc

  71. If I may comment as an outsider (Canadian), it seems to me that the idea of zero tolerance got much worse in the Dubya Bush era. Your government’s policy (especially post 9/11) was “follow orders, don’t question authority and let us do your thinking for you”. Zero tolerance basically laid out a few simple (obviously too simple) responses to poorly defined situations. The people in positions of (local) power were just blindly (stupidly) following orders after squeezing (sometimes with exceptional effort) each situation into a government defined pigeonhole.

  72. About the ZT: I scares me how insane people are these days; people that are of influence to the next generation no less. How did society become so upside-down? EVERYTHING now is Black and White, there is no such thing as gray anymore, and when a society has that mind frame, it is horrific at best. I don’t have kids right now, and the more I see our society go into such barbaric behaviors makes me consider that maybe bringing a child into this world isn’t such a good idea.

    Regarding the PA situation, I saw it on the news last week and my mouth dropped for a good five minutes. I mean seriously…who decided that a family unable to pay $55 was grounds to turn on a feature that’s supposed to only be used if the item was stolen or lost?? Where was the intelligent person, the one who would have just retaken possession of the laptop until the fee was paid, or allow the family to do it in installments if they needed to? And what in the world made the AP decide that she had a right to pull this poor kid in and discipline him for something he was doing in his house??? Even if it WAS drugs, the fact of the matter is he was no longer on school grounds, thus whatever he does inside his home, unless with the issue of a court Order allowing such observation,is his own business. The only thing he could be punished for, in terms of school policy, is of stealing the laptop if that was the case. Anything outside of that, if it’s not on school grounds, is not their jurisdiction. Anyway…how is this woman still working??? She told the kid she could turn it on anytime she wanted, that alone should have put her on paid leave at least!

    And the ones who watched….how is seeing a kid half naked serving ANYTHING but pervertedness?? Even if they DID suspect the laptop was stolen, they know kids go to bed at certain times of the night, thus there was absolutely NO reason for them to keep the camera on; it should have been turned off and then restarted the next day during a decent time when they know a kid would be using the laptop.

    GRRR. This whole thing makes me angry.

  73. Re the prevalence of webcams included with computers bought today, can the lens be easily located? Where is it usually? Maybe a place that can just be covered up with a piece of tape? Or better, a little picture of Daffy Duck?

    Yes, they’re easily covered. -rc

  74. ZT did not begin with Bush — it existed before he was ever elected to the White House, just not in quite the virulent form it has today, but it has been gathering speed. Nor it it a uniquely American phenomenon. Egregious examples have been in the news from Canada, the UK and other countries. The U.S. has a larger population and a more aggressive press, so probably more gets published in the U.S. than elsewhere. But it infects across the entire modern world.

    As for the webcams, even if your computer is equipped with one, they are simple to disable or, as someone suggested, simply cover the lens. They aren’t subtle — you should know if you have one and can just disable or delete the software that runs them.

    The previous commenter didn’t say ZT started with Bush, he said “it seems to me that the idea of zero tolerance got much worse in the Dubya Bush era”. It probably did, but I don’t think Bush had much to do with the increase. -rc

  75. @Dennis – My daughter is in the Lower Merion School District. There were cases of kids getting suspended or their laptops taken away for putting tape over the webcam. The kids suspected spying for a long time but could never prove it. They suspected it because your webcam light would come on (a green light next to the webcam indicating activity) and stay on. They were told that it was a “Software bug” and nothing to worry about. Some of the more computer savvy kids started putting black electrical tape over the webcam when they weren’t using it and I know of one child whose laptop was confiscated as a result. Apparently the teachers and staff were in the know but kids and parents weren’t. Oh & they had banned non-LMDS (Lower Merion School District) computers from accessing school resources or being on their network for “security reasons”. So as a parent, you didn’t have the option of buying your child a laptop. And why would you? It was less than $100 in fees to get one for the school year.

  76. Luke, what the kids should have done was hang a picture or sign just in front of the lens, changing it now and then to read appropriate sayings for the education of the school officials. Maybe quotes from the Founding Fathers regarding abuse of power or illegal searches, or authors for them to read like John Le Carre.

    If the kids don’t learn to stick together they are like any other group in this Land of the Free — they will be abused by those in power.

  77. ZT is also _heavily_ used inside MSFT. Where employees must follow all ZT rules, and are even monitered in their homes as per the employement contract.

    It has led to what I would call “brianless programmers” who can develop “buggy” code for us to use on our own machines, and yet not know how to troubleshoot their own systems. Or worse, how to turn said systems back on if the battery happened to die on them. This from personal experience as a Customer Service Rep in an electronics retail store.

    I presume you mean “Microsoft”, “monitored”, “employment” and “brainless”. And you know about all of this because you work in a totally different place? Funny, but no Microsoft employees have talked about this — and there are plenty of them who read TRUE, including current and former executives. That doesn’t mean what you say isn’t true, but I’ll believe them over you. -rc

  78. My experience couldn’t be more different than that of “Drako”. I worked there — both as an individual contributor and as a manager of software engineers — for over 18 years.

    We were given incredible amounts of flexibility and trust — far beyond the norm, I’d say. One of the reasons I truly enjoyed working there was exactly that; a sense that, within some limits, it didn’t really matter how or when you got the job done as long as the job got done. I never saw anything that I’d call ZT within the walls of Microsoft.

    I won’t dignify the “brainless programmers” with a comment other than to say I certainly never encountered any who’d come close to that characterization. In fact one of the other reasons I so enjoyed working there was the consistently high caliber of the people I was surrounded by.

    It’s sad that what’s obviously been someone’s bad experience with technology turns into such derogatory statements and personal attacks. (And completely off-topic to ZT, IMO)

    PS: never did work with anyone named Brian. So I guess I perhaps he’s right: I actually was “brian-less” while there. 🙂

  79. Dennis: That expects that the kids KNEW they were being spied on – which fact school somehow must have, surely by mistake (irony, of course…), forgotten to tell the kids, or their parents…

  80. I’d be willing to bet that if the camera use was that “well-known” there is Child Porn, involved. I try to be a good person, but the temptation would be almost overwhelming. Attractive teenager girls, handsome teenage boys, in their bedrooms, open to observation, unknown to them? Only a saint would not hope to catch something.

    I also know that after years as consultant and Net Op/Mgr, no reputable IT person would refuse to say something. I was fired from a job for refusing to ignore illegal behavior. After this is over, those involved won’t find jobs very easily, in reputable companies. If actual CP can be proven, not 3-5 pix, but dozens, then they’re finished.

    If I were the lawyer, I’d demand all the pix, and proof that it was all of them. They have to have records of when the cameras were on, how long, and which ones. Match that to the pix, to establish having all.

  81. Peter wrote:”That expects that the kids KNEW they were being spied on….”

    A lot of the kids are very computer-hip and they would have known. They soulhd have, probably did, tell the other kids about it. Someone said that there were cases of kids taping over the lens and suffering consequences for it. It’s just the same old stuff — people being too sheep-like and afraid of authority that they put up with their rights being denied.

    They believe in the old Chinese saying: “The nail that sticks up gets hammered down.”

  82. @ Kathi and the Swiss Army knife

    My husband works in a profession where he uses tools such as a Swiss army knife and a folding multi-tool. When he’s sent to a job in a federal building, if he has the knife or multi-tool in his pocket, it is confiscated at Security and not returned. If he remembers to put it in his toolbox ahead of time, it’s OK. In the toolbox. Along with the pipe wrench, the screwdrivers and awls, the sledgehammer, and the ominously-named dead-blow hammer. Because then, I guess, it’s a tool, and not a potential dangerous weapon.

  83. I have been a reader of True for a few years now and I reckon that about half the time, I think that Randy goes a bit too far with the ZT rant (USA is a bit different to Aussie land) and is often scarcastic which doesn’t help. BUT this time, I don’t think Randy or the public can go too far. This is outrageous! A gross invasion of privacy and I hope the authorities (or the legal team for the family) do a search of child porn comparing the images taken by the school. If even one pic has been used in child porn – even soft porn – the Administration Leadership of the school, the IT people and the School Borad and District should all be charged with making child pornograghy! And even if the pics are kept private by the school, they should still be charged! I am a teacher and if I was found to have even one photograph of a half naked child on my computers, I would be fired, never allowed to teach or work with children again, and face criminal charges. Why is it any different if the school are taking the pics themselves?

  84. Why is it any different if the school are taking the pics themselves?

    There’s an old joke about Pat and Mike sitting in the pub across the street from a house of ill repute. Watching the comings and goings of the clientele, the two Irishmen clucked over the obvious lack of morals in the community. When a rabbi was seen to enter, they clucked even worse that clergy was subject to such shame. A Protestant minister was seen to go into the house, and Pat said to Mike, “What else but low morals would you expect from such a man?” But when a Catholic priest was seen to enter the house, Mike nodded in understanding to Pat and said, “Ah, but one of the girls must be VERY sick today.”

    Why would it be so different when the schools takes such pictures? Because people can rationalize ANYTHING. If it’s the school, why then, the motives MUST be pure. It just HAS to be for a good reason. As long as motives are pure, the ends do justify the means. When discovered to actually be abuse of authority and a perversion of intentions, well, they’re only human and it’s an honest mistake.

    (It’s just a variation on the rationale that when HE succeeds in business, it’s because he’s dedicated and works hard, but when SHE succeeds in business, it’s because she slept her way to the top.)

  85. “(It’s just a variation on the rationale that when HE succeeds in business, it’s because he’s dedicated and works hard, but when SHE succeeds in business, it’s because she slept her way to the top.)
    Author: Mike from Dallas”

    It’s not a variation on that at all. You didn’t need to tack on the women’s lib sentiment.

  86. In this example, it isn’t a “women’s lib sentiment.” It’s a valid example of power being abused under the guise of “good.” I’m disabled, and was handicapped before that. I had to work harder and better than many able-bodied, to be considered as good. There was the perception that I got the job only because I was handicapped.

    Anytime you have a class that has been discriminated against, there is a perception that they “got there due to favoritism.” It isn’t always true, but the perception is always there. Mankind has been taught so early as to be inborn perception that authority is “always in the right.” When people with authority had a religious code, or in some cases an “honor code” that they cared about, it was often true.

    Today, when those in authority are in it solely for their own benefit, or with name only religious beliefs, there is nothing to hold them back. Like an engine with governor, they just keep accelerating. I don’t want power, because I *know* I would end up abusing it.

    Like any inbred society, they adopt a common set of values, regardless of what they started out with. Consequently, their definition of “good” changes.

  87. I think we’re getting OT here so I’ll make this the last I have to say on this diversion:

    Posted by walter, greenwood In on April 26, 2010:
    “. . . I’m disabled, and was handicapped before that. I had to work harder and better than many able-bodied, to be considered as good. There was the perception that I got the job only because I was handicapped.”

    Where’s the “abuse of power”?

    “Anytime you have a class that has been discriminated against, there is a perception that they “got there due to favoritism.””

    Still don’t see where abuse of power fits in.

    “It isn’t always true, but the perception is always there. Mankind has been taught so early as to be inborn perception that authority is “always in the right.” When people with authority had a religious code, or in some cases an “honor code” that they cared about, it was often true.

    Today, when those in authority are in it solely for their own benefit, or with name only religious beliefs, there is nothing to hold them back. Like an engine with governor, they just keep accelerating.”

    Now you’re off on a different track. You were talking about how people perceive the disabled, and I assume you would also include the discriminated against, women, Blacks, etc.

    “I don’t want power, because I *know* I would end up abusing it.”

    It’s like a drug with you?

    I appreciate that you’re seeing this is straying off-topic, and would appreciate this tangent wrapping up. -rc

  88. It seems that a lot of people are falling into the trap of rendering opinion on a situation without knowing all, or even most of, the facts. Can’t say I blame them a lot – the papers and TV stations are too eager to make sensational news of anything these days. From other published reports of the Lower Merion case, it has been revealed that the software loaded on the school’s laptops was activated whenever a machine was reported stolen or missing; the software then made a screen capture and camera shot _automatically_ every so often to allow the authorities to locate the laptop and determine its location. No one has been shown to be “spying” on the students.

    In the case of Blake Robbins, he had the computer out of school without proper authorization, and the tracking program was activated. By the logic of many ethicists, whatever befell the boy as a result of his misdeed is his own responsibility. And, other than the public embarrassment he has suffered, after making the photo public himself, it is hard to show any damage he has suffered.

    It would be one thing to have the sheriff plant a “nanny-cam” in my house to gather surreptitious information about me. But it is not the same thing when a laptop that I am not supposed to have is used to prove that I have it. If it happens to catch me doing something else at the same time, too bad for me. I think Blake should be glad he was just playing with a candy when he posed in front of the misappropriated computer.

    You’re arguing two wrongs make a right. That’s not the country I live in. -rc

  89. My excuses are: It was late at night, after a tiring day, and I take heavy doses of pain meds. so my thinking can be a lot fuzzy. 🙂

    My point was that people tend to think of themselves as better, more virtuous, etc. than they probably are. Therefore, when the see a discriminated (in the past) against person, the *assumption* is that being “different,” they must be lesser. This means that they got their position in some “less than honest” way. This is the start of what leads to abuse of power.

    Abuse of power starts with. “I can control myself, and not be corrupted.” The problem is that power, like the tale of the tar baby, sucks you in. The usual path is. “It won’t hurt anything to do this. Everyone knows it’s wrong, and needs to be stopped.” It may go along like that for a while, but comes the thought. “It won’t hurt if I do this, it’ll fix a problem (make —- feel good, or God wants me to do it). Hardly anyone will notice.”

    Before long, there comes the old. “I say to one, ‘Go there,’ and he goes. I tell an agency, ‘Do this,’ and they do it.” From there, the real corruption starts. It stops being “correcting injustice,” to “helping friends,” to “how much is it worth to you?”

    My comment was based on the realization that I am no better than anyone else, just more honest with myself. I’d be as quick, or quicker to pass rules, enforce consequences of behavior I don’t like, etc. As Net Op Mgr. I saw ridiculous attempts to sneak through items that in no way met the requirements of the RFP. They would claim “equivalence,” but I knew better.

    I’ve spent my life trying to be “Honest,” and truly ethical. That means I am no different in how I behave when no “sees,” as I when everyone can see. The temptations are always there, just under a little better control.
    With regard to the webcam abuse, is there any honest person that could say. “I would never do that,” and really mean it. The chance to see an attractive teenage female student, or handsome male one, partly or completely naked, *when they don’t know it?*

    As good as I try to be, I can’t be sure that I wouldn’t. Certainly, only a genuine saint, could say no. Knowing Human Nature, it would start as. “Just one, to see if I can.” Once they have one, The “curiosity” will drive it from there. The Founding Fathers understood the draw of having power.They understood that it often starts with a “good reason,” and gets worse.

  90. I’m a little disappointed that the update seems to be worded in a way that implies the employee pleading the fifth to be incriminating.

  91. “I’m a little disappointed that the update seems to be worded in a way that implies the employee pleading the fifth to be incriminating.”

    When you plead the 5th, you state that your reason is that answering the question might incriminate you. Now doesn’t that “imply” anything to you?

  92. Pleading the 5th does NOT “imply” guilt. The term is, “I decline to answer that question because it MAY TEND to implicate me”. The concept is that the answer may create the impression of guilt, whether guilt exists or not. And though you can draw whatever conclusions you want from the claim to the 5th, legally, since a person cannot be made to testify against themselves, you cannot consider such a claim to being an admission of guilt. It is about the equivalent of “no comment”, when you simply don’t want to discuss something.

  93. “And though you can draw whatever conclusions you want from the claim to the 5th….”

    Exactly. And my conclusion is that she is guilty or covering for someone else but refuses to answer any questions about the matter because she’s unable to defend against the charges.

    Yes, it’s true that prosecutors can’t make something out of her invoking the Fifth. But yes, it’s also true that people will come to conclusions, or at least make assumptions, based on how she invokes the Fifth, and in response to what specific questions. Sometimes those assumptions will be right, sometimes they’ll be wrong. But they are certainly natural and understandable. -rc

  94. I’m curious if there’s any update about this story. I guess it hasn’t gone to court yet?

    The really ironic thing is that the school COULD have notified parents. Just have a lawyer draft a permission slip. “The party of the first part, Lower Merion School District (SCHOOL), and the parties of the second part, ______ (STUDENT) and ______ (PARENTS), do hereby agree…” Four pages later, there’s a spot for the parents to sign. Maybe 1% of the parents would actually read the whole thing, to find out that the school reserves the right to turn on the camera at any time for any reason without prior notification, and publish any pictures they take – whether you’re dressed or not… And I bet that half of those 1% would warn the kids about the camera, but still allow it into the house!

    On February 23, “Heather, Utah” used the term “spy camera” referring to the cameras installed in the laptops.

    On February 25, “Luke in DC” said that even when a laptop is reported stolen, “Webcam use is totally unnecessary” because GPS chips could be used.

    On April 24, “Linda, Michigan” suggested that “computers given to students from a school” (should not) “have a webcam on them.” She also said she was having trouble finding a good laptop without a webcam.

    Why are laptop computers more expensive than desktop computers? We want the laptop computers to be lightweight, very fast, work on batteries for a long time, and most important of all: with the possible exception of the monitor and keyboard, we want the whole unit to be as tiny as possible. Desktop computers almost always have available “expansion slots” where additional components (network cards, sound cards, display cards) can be plugged in, but this takes up space. It’s very rare for a laptop computer to have unused slots where additional components can be plugged in (exception: there’s usually one tiny slot for additional memory).

    Since you can’t easily add additional components after you’ve bought the laptop, manufacturers have to decide what components most people will want – and then build it right in when it’s sold.

    It’s very easy to add a webcam to a desktop computer. If you want to add one to a laptop that doesn’t already have one, your choices are much more limited. The technology to create these cameras has come way down in price; as a result, most laptop computers do have one built in.

    This isn’t evil. My own laptop computer does have a webcam. It certainly isn’t a “spy cam” –- there’s a big sticker next to it that says “web cam!” with an arrow. (It came with the computer, presumably to make it easier to sell. I could have ripped the sticker off, but so far I haven’t bothered.) I’ve only used the camera once, and that was just to make sure that it works, in case I *really* want to use it later. It’s not unsafe, either –- even if you knew my Internet Address (IP), you probably wouldn’t be able to activate my camera remotely. I know about all the software on my computer that is able to use the camera, and I control when they run.

    It would be different if you owned the computer and loaned it to me. If you installed a program that allows you to turn on the camera remotely, there’s a good chance I wouldn’t know about it. So I would be paying attention to the little light next to the camera! However, as a computer programmer, I happen to know that it IS possible to turn on the camera without turning on the light! So if I was really paranoid about you using the camera (and I’m starting to see that this type of paranoia might be wise), I would cover the lens up.

    My laptop computer does NOT have a Lojack (or any other type of GPS) built-in –- because that would cost money. If someone manages to steal my laptop I would love to remote-activate the camera or GPS, but I probably won’t be able to.

    Almost any tool can be abused. The laptop, so handy for doing school work, can also be used to browse porn. The television, so handy for viewing nightly news, can also be used to waste time. The hammer, so handy for building, can also make giant holes in walls. And if I did have a GPS so that I could find my laptop if it’s lost or stolen, it could also be abused –- my wife could track my exact location while I’m on a business trip, whether I gave her permission or not.

    When I first started using computers, the idea of using built-in cameras for two-way conversations with pictures was strictly in the realm of science fiction. Now we’re in the 21st century, and my kids do that all the time.
    The camera isn’t evil. Using it without permission, that’s what’s evil.

  95. @DSR, South Bend on Nov. 27, 2012:

    “As revolted as I am by this story, I find the ending to be even worse: no charges were filed, and a toothless policy was implemented.”

    That’s not all that’s revolting. According to the Wikipedia link DSR posted, Robbins got $175,000. Hasan got $10,000.

    The lawyers got $425,000 — nearly 70% of the entire award.

  96. I don’t mind the lawyers getting a big payout — they put in years of effort and probably would have gotten nothing if they had lost.

    What does irk me is that the taxpayers will probably do the paying. It ought to be the officials themselves, not the district, not their insurance policy. I don’t know who pays it, but I am cynical enough to think it will be the district.

    It will almost certainly be taxpayers or the district’s insurance. But don’t be relieved if it’s insurance: the rates are high because of garbage like this, and the more garbage like this, the higher they go. And the insurance premiums? Paid for by taxpayers, of course. Aka, us! -rc

  97. Felix wrote “What does irk me is that the taxpayers will probably do the paying. It ought to be the officials themselves, not the district, not their insurance policy. I don’t know who pays it, but I am cynical enough to think it will be the district.”

    So, this school has just blown probably a million dollars. The teachers’ unions, school administrators, and school boards around the country are always asking for more funds for the schools. Have any of them come out with any comments about this case?

  98. As I recall, since this story came out there was another controversy regarding laptops and remotely-activated cameras, but this was done by store that sold the computers on a “Rent-to-Own” plan. As in the School System Story, the remote-activation was supposed to be for tracking down computers that had been stolen, but also for computers that were to be repossessed by the company.

    I am murky on all of the details but as I recall the company had to agree to turn off the remote-activation system because they were misusing the system and, even though it may have been in the fine print of the contract that people signed when they bought these computers (which require weekly or monthly payments) the fact that the company COULD ‘spy’ on its customers was NOT explained to them.

    It was a similar situation because most “Rent-to-Own” contracts are written in such a way that the product being purchased is still legally the property of the SELLER until the final payment is made. In the School situation I believe the computers were also considered the property of the School System (just like textbooks) and were to be returned to the school at the end of the term (hence the system admins being concerned about retrieving stolen computers).

    This is not a ZT Case it is an Invasion of Privacy case. Most teens keep their computers in their bedrooms because that is where they do their homework (and it gives them some privacy from their parents). Virtually ALL teens (and everyone else for that matter) undresses and dresses in their bedrooms, because that is where their clothes are kept.

    One of the lessons to be learned from this is to never do anything you would be embarrassed if your grandmother saw it on or near a computer that you do not own outright, because you never know who MIGHT be able to watch.

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