A few weeks ago, Frontline premiered a documentary called “Digital Nation”. In one segment, the vice-principle of Intermediate School 339, Bronx, NY, Dan Ackerman, demonstrates how he “remotely monitors” the students’ laptops for “inappropriate use”. (his demonstration begins at 4:36)

He says “They don’t even realize we are watching,” “I always like to mess with them and take a picture,” and “9 times out of 10, THEY DUCK OUT OF THE WAY.”

He says the students “use it like it’s a mirror” and he watches. He says 6th and 7th graders have their cameras activated. It looks like the same software used by the Pennsylvania school that is being investigated for covertly spying on students through their webcams.

The shocking thing about this is that the privacy concerns were not even mentioned in the Frontline documentary!

This is beyond belief. The PBS documentary treats this as though it’s acceptable behavior. What is wrong with these people?

  1. Mr. Normal says:

    This is not “spying on children”, it’s supervision. It is the first job of any school.

    This is not a coffee shop or even a workplace with adults working independently. This is a school with kids who have been entrusted to the care of the school.

    The school has to be aware of everything that is happening on campus, because if something bad happens — and something bad always happens — the school will be held accountable.

    This school is doing it right, mostly. If anything, there is not enough supervision because several students said they spent much of their time in chat rooms and playing games.

  2. Nth of the 49th says:

    “This is not spying on kids this is “monitoring” kids to make sure they are doing their school work, it’s totally different.”


  3. Nth of the 49th says:

    “This is not spying on kids this is “monitoring” kids to make sure they are doing their school work, it’s totally different.”


    I do believe this is thee most idiotic, hypocritical comment I’ve ever seen on DU maybe even the internet. Keep believing that and when it’s turned around and used on you just remember “It’s OK”

  4. Nth of the 49th says:


    “sigh” nothing destroys a comment like double posting it.

  5. Yatti420 says:

    The sad thing is this kind of rootkit \ software is used just about everywhere nowadays.. While it may not be for spying while your at school.. The majority of schools don’t adequately inform students.. Which as you can see from the case in PA is a bad move.. The bottom line when you go through task manager at school turn off all of those things you don’t know.. It is most likely spy software..

  6. sargasso says:

    In Soviet Russia, school administrator is state security informant.

  7. Buzz says:

    “Here’s ‘your’ computer. Take care of it, since it really belongs to ME. I’m letting you use it, but be aware that at any time, I can see you and tell what programs and progress you are making.

    “If you don’t treat it with respect and care, I will know that, too. You can’t take it away, because chips inside it always know where it is. We provide it to you so you can get much better learning.”

    What’s wrong with THAT?

    Nobody’s “rights” are being violated. Nobody is being “spied on.” The transaction is not “Soviet.”

    The only reason this story is being posted here is to inflame the issue.

    Sigh. We come here wishing for something less than blog hypocrisy. Too often we get blog hypocrisy designed to do one thing only, and John has said this publicly: Drive Up The Numbers.

    Whoops! I fell right into his clever trap.

  8. clancys_daddy says:

    actually I think the first job of a school is to educate. The first job of a babysitter is to supervise.

  9. bill says:

    I have a HUGE PROBLEM with someone ‘sharing my desktop’ when I don’t know they are doing it…

    When we are being ‘recorded’ on a telephone call we are supposed to hear a ‘beep’

    How about a little flashing icon that signifies that someone is watching/monitoring/controlling/recording your desktop?

    Only fair…

  10. robroydude says:

    #32 Nth, you must not get on onine much, I’m sure you could find hypocritical (how is that one by the way?)statements within seconds on this site, if you knew the basics of how to use google (which it appears you lack).

    Regardless of your imagined hideous crime existing on all of the Internet, the fact remains the same. That this no different than teachers ( pre-computers in classrooms)walking around checking on work progress vs doodling during class. A statement backed up in this comment section by several others.

    Perhaps it’s time you pack your duffel and head up to your remote cabin in the wild. Your paranoia will get the better of you here, and I don’t think there is enough foil around to protect you in today’s civilization.

  11. Thinker says:

    Come on FragALot… I don’t get your ‘what if’ scenario. What if they catch a kid being sexually abused?? If you’re serious, thats a very ‘end justifies the means’ argument.

    If they have IT people why not, a) not let anyone run with more privelages than a user.
    b) use Microsofts ISA server as a web proxy that can keep people from places on the web they don’t want them going. You could implement this with few IT people.

    You can still monitor whats going on, but take the guess work out of it. Guess I should read about what happened in PA. That would be an invasion of privacy.

  12. Mr. Fusion says:

    So sad most posters don’t understand the law. There is no problem with monitoring a student’s work or what programs are open on a computer. Spying on the student however, is another thing and not allowed under Federal Wiretap laws.

    The same does not apply to the private workplace IF the employee is aware he is being spied upon. If the employee is unaware he is being spied upon then that may be illegal. Analyzing a work computer, which belongs to the company, is quite permissible.

    A student is different for two reasons. He does not have a choice of being there. While an employee’s presence is voluntarily, a student’s attendance is mandatory. Second, as a minor, they may not make informed consent to having their activities spied upon.

    If the computers have the programs on them that trigger the spying, that is an invitation for the student to open the program. If the schools do not want the programs opened, they could put a password key on them to prevent their being used or even remove the program.

    The sad part is a little research would have revealed that to the Administration. Instead, now there is a good chance the School District will have to pay a lot in defense lawyers and settlements.

  13. ECA says:

    1. this is ONLY being done IN SCHOOL..NOT after hours..
    2. its a CLOSED network that the students use AT SCHOOL..once they are gone, its NOT the same network. THATS in this video.

    What happened in the OTHER instance was that pics were taken AFTER school hours, the SCHOOL use a network that was PUBLIC, not an isolated SCHOOL ONLY SYSTEM..AND it was after school hours..

  14. Zybch says:

    #38 – actually I think the first job of a school is to educate. The first job of a babysitter is to supervise.

    That may be the case, but in the current US just imagine the lawsuits that would soon be flying through the air if a couple of kids at the school stumbled onto some porn site ‘accidentally’ and mentioned it to their parents.
    Oh, wait. This has already happened and the teacher faced years in prison under Child Endangerment laws even though it wasn’t her fault a site about ponies triggered a porn-storm, and she did everything she should have (turned off the screen, informed the IT guys etc). Thankfully she got a 2nd trial since her original legal representative did such a piss poor job at defending her.
    Do you think thats a better outcome than simply monitoring what the kids are up to AT SCHOOL to keep them (and the school) out of trouble?

  15. mseliga says:

    My school had a similar tool called Vision on our Windows network. More times than not we found ways to circumvent it, shut it down, or simply use it on each other. Still, it’s easy enough for them to block certain apps, or even uninstall them. It is a tad creepy. The worst part is that it seems like a half assed system anyway.

  16. clancys_daddy says:

    Actually my comment was directed toward the argument from 31. I have no problem with the monitoring by staff, provided. 1 it only occurs at school. 2 the students are aware of the monitoring policy, as are their parents. 3 written consent is given by both parent and student (or no computer for you). 4 policies are set and monitored for abuse by higher up in the school system. 5 the teachers spend more time teaching than babysitting.

  17. Mr. Normal says:

    Actually, education is just about the last thing that happens at school.

    Students have to be transported to school, fed, scheduled into classes, provided with appropriate texts and materials, grading and record keeping systems have to be in place. Quite literally hundreds of other things have to happen before the first pencil touches paper.

    Education is the end product.

  18. clancys_daddy says:

    true, so what does that say about us.

  19. RicoSauve says:

    As someone that actually uses this kind of software for the purpose it was built for, I can tell you that the kids KNOW they are watching, and have tried to find ways around it. We’ve had a few systems in place over the years, in larger labs and in environments where there are laptops that can be moved outside the classroom. It is exactly so the teacher can “look over their shoulders”. If they are not on task, the teacher can choose to send a message, or even take over the computer if the student is being argumentative.

    The system in the video is Apple’s own remote desktop and administration solution, and the client is pre-installed on every Mac. http://www.apple.com/remotedesktop/

    The notebooks shown in use by the students are all macbooks, which have webcams by default. Perhaps the school/district should disable applications, or set student accounts to be ‘limited’. Sure the teachers themselves in the story were all a bit creepy in their own way, but it isn’t an issue of spying.

    I have a feeling that, if they’re like us, that there is a policy that is sent home that the parents and students must sign and return before they’re allowed to touch a computer. I’m sure many people just signed it, as they would click thru a EULA, but that doesn’t absolve the fact they agreed to the terms.

    As for comparing this to the other case, well, I don’t think the kids in the other case should have been allowed to take the notebooks home in the first place. Only special cases are allowed to take ours home.

    I know I’m being logged at work. I knew I was going to be logged at school when I went back for upgrade training last year. No one had to tell me. I know my ISP is logging me at home. It is only a matter of request from law enforcement and the records would be brought out.

    tl;dr: School property, at school, nothing to see here, move along.

  20. Benjamin says:

    I think we will find out that someone with a large stash of child porn has something to do with the spying at this Pennsylvania school. Just a thought.

  21. M-E says:

    Making a bigger deal of this than worthy I think.

    The kids have to OPEN up the camera prog on their end, they use the camera program as a mirror! They are more than aware they can be seen.

    No different than walking up behind a kid in class who is reading a comic book inside his text book and catching him that way.

    I more worry about teaching kids to hyper task so young, we live it, so will they, but maybe they will short-out somewhere along the line quicker. Kids don’t know a world before computers.


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