Thursday, February 18, 2010

Lawsuit: PA School District Using School-Issued Laptop Webcams to Spy on Students

With the development of new techonologies, some of which have capabilities that we do not even realize, we put our privacy at risk. There has also been a big push to provide children with laptop computers for school work. Well, along with these "carrots", there may be a few "sticks". Also, you can be certain that if a capability to invade someone's privacy is made available, there will be those who take advantage of it. What's troubling is when those with that capability have the power to use that information to harm you.

Posted at America's Right:
A class action lawsuit filed late yesterday in Federal Court in Philadelphia has shed light on a secret surveillance program targeting Americans, but this particular operation is not being run by the FBI or the NSA. It’s being run by the Lower Merion School District, in the old-money Main Line suburbs of Philadelphia, PA.

The complaint, filed by minor high school student Blake Robbins and his parents, alleges that the school district has been spying on the activities of students and students’ families through the “indiscriminant use of and ability to remotely activate the webcams incorporated into each laptop issued to students,” all without the knowledge or consent of any of the students or parents involved.

Through a one-to-one laptop computer initiative funded by state and federal grants, each of the approximately 1,800 students in the school district’s two high schools, Harriton High School in Rosemont, PA and Lower Merion High School in Ardmore, PA were issued a webcam-equipped personal laptop computer. The initiative, according to remarks by Superintendent—and defendant—Christopher McGinley on the district’s Web site, “enhances opportunities for ongoing collaboration, and ensures that all students have 24/7 access to school based resources and the ability to seamlessly work on projects and research at school and at home.”

What students and parents did not know, however, was that the 24/7 access goes both ways. According to the complaint, nowhere in any of the documentation accompanying the laptops or otherwise disseminated to students and parents was any reference made to the ability of the school district to remotely activate the webcam embedded in each laptop at any time, according to the district’s discretion.

How the capability was discovered should be enough to put any who value civil liberties and privacy on the edge of their seat. From the complaint (emphasis mine):

On November 11, 2009, Plaintiffs were for the first time informed of the above-mentioned capability and practice by the School District when Lindy Matsko, an Assistant Principal at Harriton High School, informed minor Plaintiff that the School District was of the belief that minor Plaintiff was engaged in improper behavior in his home, and cited as evidence a photograph from the webcam embedded in minor Plaintiff’s personal laptop issued by the School District.

It was only then that Blake Robbins’ father, Michael, verified from Assistant Principal Lindy Matsko that the school district did in fact have the capability of remotely activating the cameras embedded in the district-issued laptop computer wherever the computer may be situated and regardless of whether the student is using it, and that the school district could at any time choose “to view and capture whatever images were in front of the webcam, all without the knowledge, permission or authorization of any persons then and there using the laptop computer.”

The school district’s conduct, the plaintiffs allege, runs afoul of not only the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution, but also a laundry list of federal and state laws intended to protect the privacy of people and stored information alike. This includes the Electronic Communication Privacy Act, the Computer Fraud Abuse Act, the Stored Communications Act, §1983 of the Civil Rights Act, the Pennsylvania Wiretapping and Electronic Surveillance Act, and Pennsylvania common law as well.

In the complaint, the plaintiffs voice concerns as to any students or family members who could have been caught in “embarrassing and humiliating” situations, noting that “the laptops at issue were routinely used by students and family members while at home,” and that “many of the images captured and intercepted may consist of images of minors and their parents or friends in compromising or embarrassing positions, including, but not limited to, in various stage of dress or undress.”

Blake Robbins and his parents are represented by Mark Haltzman of Lamm Rubenstone LLC. Class members include any students who have been issued webcam-equipped personal laptop computers by the Lower Merion School District. The plainiffs are seeking punitive and other damages stemming from the school district’s invasion of privacy.

Robbins v. Lower Merion School District, case number 2:10cv00665, was filed in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania on Tuesday, February 16, 2010. Click HERE for a PDF copy of the complaint.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Abstinence Education Works

A message sponsered by "Captain Obvious":

Posted at CitizenLink

Abstinence education is effective in reducing sexual activity among youth, according to a study published in the February 2010 Archives of Pediatric & Adolescent Medicine conducted by University of Pennsylvania researchers.

The students in the abstinence class initiated less sex, had fewer sexual partners and had more pronounced risk reductions compared to those receiving safe-sex and comprehensive sex education.

Leslee Unruh, president and founder of National Abstinence Clearinghouse, said abstinence programs showed "kids there are too many great things riding on their future to risk it to STDs, pregnancy and broken hearts."

"Finally, a study that proves what those of us who have been teaching abstinence have known for years," she said, "these programs help develop self-control and self-esteem, teaching kids they do not need to fall prey to the game of Russian Roulette with condoms."

More than 600 high-risk African-American students, in grades 6-7, took part in a study that confirms what pro-life leaders have said for years.

Dr. David Stevens, CEO of the 16,000 member Christian Medical Association, said science has finally caught up with logic.

"Parents have known for centuries," he said, "by empirically demonstrating that equipping teens to abstain from sexual activity is an effective way to prevent teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases."

View the study.

Monday, February 1, 2010

High schools confiscate plastic fetuses

Posted at Roswell, N.M. KRQE News 13:
Roswell School District officials confiscated hundreds of plastic fetuses Friday that about 50 students distributed at four Roswell area high schools.

The students are members of Relentless, a religious group that is campaigning to put religion back into school programs.

Roswell High School student Stephanie Collier says 3,500 two-inch fetuses were distributed at Roswell, Goddard, Dexter and Valley Christian Academy high schools as a message that all life is important.

Roswell Independent School District superintendent Michael Gottlieb says the fetuses were taken away because they hadn't been approved by the instructional office.

And here is a picture of the offending contraband.

So am I to understand that everything that is handed out in schools is "approved by the instructional office"?

Perhaps the school doesn't want to promote a belief in fetuses.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

State rules in favor of young transgender

Posted at the Bangor Daily News:
AUGUSTA, Maine — The Maine Human Rights Commission ruled Monday that the Orono School Department discriminated against a transgender child by denying her access to the girls bathroom.

While the school department’s lawyer warned that schools around the state may not be ready to manage the practical fallout from the decision, civil liberties advocates hailed the ruling as an advancement of human rights.

“This ruling is a huge step forward for a vulnerable population that is entitled to the full protection of the law,” said Zachary Heiden, legal director of the Maine Civil Liberties Union. “There will always be voices who claim we’re not ready, we’re not there yet, the time to end discrimination is next year, or next session. But victims of discrimination should not have to wait.”

The attorney for the child and her parents said his clients are very happy with the outcome of their complaint.

“At the very heart of it is the issue of basic human dignity and fundamental civil liberties,” said Eric Mehnert. “It was a good decision.”

But Melissa Hewey, attorney for the Orono School Department, said the ruling was “a huge leap.”

“I’m not sure that it takes into account practicalities that face educators around the state,” she said. “You can understand [the ruling] intellectually. You can agree with it intellectually. But practice is sometimes different — and I think that’s what may have escaped some people in this case.”

The discrimination in question first occurred in October 2007 when the child was in the fifth grade at Asa Adams School. Until then, she was allowed to use the girls’ bathroom, although she was biologically male. But that fall, the transgender child was followed into the girls room by a male student who had “previously started to harass her by stalking her and calling her ‘faggot,’” according to the Maine Human Rights Commission investigator’s report.

After the second such episode, the boy was suspended and removed from the transgender child’s class. At that point, school officials told the transgender child that she had to use a single-stall faculty bathroom at the other end of the school, and that was when her parents decided to take the matter to the Maine Human Rights Commission.

You can't make a "he" a "she" by changing his clothes and calling him "her" any more than I can put on a jumpsuit and say I'm Elvis Presley and start living at Graceland.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Trustee's speech to kids turns into sex talk

This story is from the Galveston County Daily News in Texas:

What was supposed to be a motivation speech to a collection of sixth- through eighth-grade girls at Crosby Middle School instead turned into an explicit sex talk, including descriptions on how to perform oral and anal sex, Hitchcock school officials said.

The motivational speaker turned out to be a Hitchcock school board member, Shirley Price.

Hitchcock Superintendent Mike Bergman said the Jan. 15 pep talk was supposed to be a motivational speech.

Price, who was born with physical handicaps, still managed to earn a doctoral degree and also won a seat on the school board.

Bergman said when Price was introduced, she asked that the school’s principal leave the room. Most of the teachers remained, but they did not step in when Price’s speech turned inappropriate, Bergman said.

“Somehow she got some story that she heard that students were having sex on campus and went into a speech about sexual type things,” Bergman said. “There was no motivational speech at all.”

The speech reportedly turned graphic and included instructions on how to perform oral and anal sex and included several curse words, Bergman said.

Students apparently were told to keep the contents of the speech secret, Bergman said.

NO SECRETS!!!!! If there is anything our children need to tell us parents about, it's anything that another adult has told them in "secret".

I can't believe that teachers just stood by and let this pervert just yammer on and on with this subject matter. You cannont "unhear" what you've heard, nor "unsee" what you have seen. These children are affected forever by what this pervert has told them and her mission is accomplished. Yours, as parents, has been largely thwarted.

This kind of thing would be grounds for investigation and arrest if it had happened at a birthday party or sleep over. Why do we let the schools get away with this?

God help us all.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Mother sues schools over unauthorized gynecological exam

This article is an excellent reminder that we tell our children not to consent to any kind of examination or questioning that they are not comfortable with. Right away a child should request that their parents be contacted. I tell my children that no matter what is threatened, they will not be in any trouble for insisting that their mother of father be called and brought in prior to any questioning, searching, or examination. No job or school is worth that much.

Posted at the Nashville City Paper:
An Antioch woman is suing the Metro Board of Education and a former nurse at Mt. View Elementary, claiming the nurse performed a gynecological exam on her daughter without her consent.

Seeking unspecified damages, the woman claims the exam inflicted emotional distress on her daughter, resulting in post-traumatic stress disorder.

According to documents filed in Davidson County Circuit Court on Wednesday, the 6-year-old girl had a history of bladder and urinary tract infections. On Oct. 28, the girl complained to her teacher of genital pain, the filing says. Her mother confirmed to the teacher that the girl had a doctor appointment in a couple of days. The following day the girl was taken out of art class and brought before the school nurse, who no longer works at Mt. View Elementary. The nurse asked the girl, the filing says, "if anyone had touched her privates." The girl said, "No."

"[The nurse] then took [the girl] to the bathroom and had her pull down her pants and panties and squat. She then told [the girl] to open her private. [The nurse] then told her, 'it's not red, you can pull your pants up.'"

Prior to filing the suit, the woman's attorney, Phillip L. Davidson, said the school board had been unresponsive. "The school board has not cooperated with us at all in trying to investigate this matter."

A spokeswoman for the school board declined to comment.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Preacher's toe touches school lawn, he gets arrested

Why do people seem to think that "Freedom of Religion" is the same thing as "Freedom from Religion"? Often times the state thinks that their duty to "make no law respecting an establishment of religion" means the same thing as "protecting" children from hearing anything religious. They're completely ignoring the part that says prohibits making a law to prohibit the free exercise of religion.

Posted at World Net Daily:
A New Jersey judge has dismissed a criminal case against a volunteer who was preaching the Gospel on public property in front of the Edison, N.J., High School when his toe inadvertently brushed the grass and he was arrested.

The case has been detailed by the Alliance Defense Fund, which takes on civil rights and religious rights cases nationwide.

The order dismissing the case against Robert Parker was signed by Judge Travis Francis.

"Christians shouldn't be arrested and charged as criminals for expressing their beliefs on public property. They have the same First Amendment rights as anyone else in America," said ADF-allied attorney Demetrios Stratis of Fair Lawn.

"A person cannot be charged with a crime just because a school official has a complete misunderstanding of the First Amendment or doesn't like what that person has to say. We are pleased that we prevailed in court in getting these unwarranted criminal charges dropped," he said.

According to the report issued yesterday by the ADF, Parker "was taken into custody after his toe touched the grass on the school's side of the sidewalk. He was charged with trespass and disorderly conduct."

It was last May when Parker was sharing the Gospel from a public sidewalk outside the high school after students were dismissed for the day.

The school principal came out and told him to leave, whereupon Parker explained his First Amendment free speech and free exercise of religion protections. Dissatisfied, the principal called police.

According to the ADF, when officers arrived they took control of the situation and instructed students "not to go near Parker."

The principal then insisted that Parker be arrested.

"While speaking with officers, Parker's toe brushed against the grass along the school side of the sidewalk. The officers arrested him and issued him a summons for 'defiant trespassing,'" the ADF reported.

The events leading to the arrest were recorded on video.

Stratis later filed a motion to dismiss the charges with the Superior Court of New Jersey, Middlesex County, and the court ordered the dismissal. The Edison Municipal Court later followed the order.

Friday, January 15, 2010

'Sexting': Child Pornography or Free-Speech Right?

Posted at
PHILADELPHIA — A federal appeals court must decide whether "sexting" by three Pennsylvania teens amounts to child pornography or is a free-speech right.

A three-judge panel in Philadelphia is hearing arguments Friday in a case between a county prosecutor and the American Civil Liberties Union.

The prosecutor is threatening to file child-pornography charges against three girls after racy cell-phone images of them circulated through their high school.

I don't see "none of the above" as an option. Although I don't consider these children as "child pornographers", nor do I consider it a "free-speech right". What these girls, as well as thousands of children across America and around the world, have done is wrong. They should be punished as well as anyone found to have forwarded these pictures along to anyone else. As to whether these kids are actually sexual predators is debatable. Some may be, most are probably not.

Perhaps there should be a fine assessed along with a revocation of the cell phones. I'm not an advocate of creating new laws everytime something pops up, but if our only choices are to label these kids as "sex offender" or to let them off the hook, we need to consider a third option.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Wilson schools agree to end Bible distribution to students at school after student complaint - WHNT

Posted today at WHNT Channel 9 in Huntsville, AL. This story actually comes from Tennessee.
LEBANON, Tenn. (AP) — Wilson County schools have agreed to end the distribution of Bibles to students during the school day and on school grounds.

The settlement came after the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee threatened to sue on behalf of a fifth-grade student at Carroll-Oakland Elementary School. A Tuesday news release announcing the settlement claims the student took a Bible during a distribution in the school's gym because she feared being ostracized if she did not.

In the settlement, school board members acknowledge that distribution of Bibles to students at school has been recognized as a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The "Establishment Clause" of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution reads as follows:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof...

Siimply getting school board members to "acknowledge that distribution of Bibles to students at school has been recognized as a violation of the Establishment Clause" doesn't necessarily make it true.

The same founders who wrote and ratified the U.S. Constitution didn't have a problem with the Bible being used in public schools.

Benjamin Rush: A Defense of the Use of the Bible in Public Schools

Benjamin Franklin: insisted that schools teach "the excellency of the Christian religion above all others, ancient or modern.

James Madison: In 1812, President Madison signed a federal bill which economically aided the Bible Society of Philadelphia in its goal of the mass distribution of the Bible.
“ An Act for the relief of the Bible Society of Philadelphia” Approved February 2, 1813 by Congress

Is there any chance that those who now believe that it violates the Establishment Clause to distribute bibles could be mistaken?

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Defense launched for kids sex books

Posted at WorldNetDaily:

The chairman of the American Library Association's Intellectual Freedom Committee has launched a defense of Kevin Jennings and the sexually explicit books recommended for children by the homosexual advocacy organization that Jennings started, the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network.

"Though Jennings' and GLSEN's critics claim to be upholding American morals and values by condemning the GLSEN book list, they are actually undermining the values of tolerance, free inquiry, and self-determination that inform and sustain our democratic way of life in the United States," said Martin Garnar in a statement.

"Stigmatizing particular ideas and engaging in unfounded personal attacks in an effort to censor and suppress opposing opinions and ideas is the antithesis of intellectual freedom, especially when done to discourage and prevent individuals from accessing or considering those opinions and ideas," he wrote.

I'm sure this library association is also busy defending this girl's personal reading selection.