School’s looking at you, kid

This photograph was taken about a year ago and shows 15-year-old Blake Robbins asleep in his bedroom. The picture in itself is not that interesting. What is remarkable is that it was taken with the built-in iSight camera of his Apple MacBook laptop, remotely operated by technicians at Harriton High School in Rosemont, Pennsylvania in the United States.

Robbins brought home a school-issued laptop that had TheftTrack installed on it. If a laptop was missing or stolen, this systems allowed the school to connect to the laptop and remotely turn on its built-in camera to discover where it was. The system is enthusiastically explained in this YouTube video by one of the technicians of the school. Except for snapping pictures with the camera, it can also take screenshots to see what the user is looking at.

Robbins found out when he was called into the office of the assistant principal and was reprimanded for taking drugs. He was shown a photograph of himself popping a pill as proof. Later, it turned out that he was munching on “Mike and Ike” candy. His parents were not amused and filed a law suit against the Lower Merion School District in February this year. After much legal wrangling the case was settled this week. Robbins receives $175.000 from his school. His lawyer receives $425.000.

There are a lot of interesting legal and ethical aspects about this case. But what I have enjoyed most in the interviews about the case were the emotional responses. You can tell people empathize with Blake Robbins mainly for selfish reasons. What if my privacy was invaded like this? What if it was me?

Now, look up at your camera. Smile!

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