Briefs: School District Probes Webcams on Student Laptops; Supreme Court Tackles Privacy of Work Texting

Audit critical of county's IT service levels; federal IT leaders to speak at NASCIO Midyear Conference.

by / April 21, 2010

School Webcam Spying Case Reveals Thousands of Images Captured

Employees of a Pennsylvania school district that's at the center of what's been alleged as a student-spying scandal activated webcams and tracking software on laptops given to students about 80 times in the past two years, snapping 56,000 images, the Philly News has reported.

Those images included photos of students pictured inside their homes and copies of the programs or files running on their screens, district investigators concluded. The practice has since spawned a civil rights lawsuit, an FBI investigation and new federal legislation.

The Lower Merion School District's full report is due within the next two weeks. The district began using the system after giving each of its nearly 2,300 high school students their own laptop computer, and school officials say the webcams were activated only when a laptop was suspected of being missing or stolen.

In most cases of the web cameras and tracking software being activated, technicians turned on the system after a student or staffer reported a laptop missing and turned it off when the machine was found, the investigator found. In at least five instances, however, school employees let the webcams keep taking images for days or weeks after the missing laptops were found.

One student's family has filed suit against the school district, alleging invasion of privacy.



Gov Workers' Texting Privacy Rights Being Challenged

Supreme Court justices appeared to agree with a California city's claim that a SWAT team officer shouldn't expect his text messages sent on a government pager to his wife and girlfriend to remain private.

The case is the first before the Supreme Court involving texting on the job and could affect policies for government workers' use of employer-issued cell phones and other communication devices. Ontario city officials are appealing a lower court's decision that a police department violated a sergeant's constitutional protection against unreasonable searches when it reviewed his texts, some of which were sexual in nature.

Justice John Paul Stevens seemed skeptical that the officer could have expected communications on a police department pager to never be disclosed. "Wouldn't you just assume that the whole universe of conversations by SWAT officers who were on duty 24/7 might well have to be reviewed by some member of the public or some supervisor?" he asked.

The case -- a test of government interests in controlling a workforce against public employees' privacy rights -- arises at a time when "work and private life get melded together," the sergeant's lawyer said in court Monday.

Source: USA Today


Audit Finds Disconnect Between County Executive and County, IT Services Suffering

An audit of Washington state's Snohomish County cited poor communication between elected leaders and concluded that IT services were suffering as a result.

The audit, conducted by an independent consultant, found there appears to be poor communication between County Executive Aaron Reardon's office and other elected leaders. Also, IT services are more attentive to departments under Reardon's control, the audit found.

The audit says the difference in views between the executive's office and the rest of the county government is "pronounced" and calls attention to "an unusual factor" during the audit, as interviews with employees under Reardon's authority were "short and not much information" was shared.

Snohomish County employs about 100 information services people and has an annual budget of about $18.5 million. Responsible for managing the county's technology and printing needs, it reports to the executive office, but serves all county government.

Source: Everett, Wash., Herald Net

NASCIO Midyear Conference Key Federal Speakers Announced

Three key federal officials, including the federal CIO, are scheduled to speak at the National Association of State Chief Information Officers midyear conference in Baltimore:

  • Vivek Kundra: Federal chief information officer, U.S. Office of Management and Budget, will address the state members on Wednesday, April 28, during the State Member Meeting. Kundra will outline opportunities for federal and state collaboration and share insights on how we can work together to make government more efficient and effective.
  • Howard Schmidt: White House cyber-security coordinator, will be featured Luncheon Keynote Speaker on Thursday, April 29. Schmidt will address new opportunities for coordination and collaboration between the states and the federal government on issues related to cyber-security and critical infrastructure protection. 
  • Gene Dodaro: Acting comptroller general of the United States and head of the Government Accountability Office, will present the Closing Keynote Address on Friday, April 30. Dodaro will discuss the GAO's perspective on efforts to improve government performance and efficiency as well as accountability and transparency to citizens.

For more information on the conference, visit NASCIO.