Webcamgate Is an Expensive Lesson in Security, Privacy

According to a report in the Philadelphia Daily News:

....her attorney, Charles Mandracchia, filed a motion yesterday to block her deposition, saying that it was "premature" and "unnecessary."

Mandracchia said that his client does not have access to pertinent documents. He expressed concern that Robbins' attorney, Mark Haltzman, would "ambush her" in a deposition.

"We didn't say we wouldn't produce her," Mandracchia said. "We're just saying we're not going to produce her now."

(In other words, maybe they'll produce her later. Maybe after Hell freezes over. Or maybe after the District has written a large check to the Robbins family and quietly buried the affair.)

According to news reports, two members of the Harrinton High student council heard about the spy cam feature and approached school principal Steven R. Kline last year. Per the Philadelphia Inquirer:

When Kline confirmed it, students told him they were worried about privacy violations and asked about other types of monitoring. But nothing happened -- not even after the students returned for a follow-up visit, according to other council members who were briefed afterward.

Another group of parents have banded together in an effort to stop the Robbins lawsuit. They've filed a motion asking the judge to allow them to intervene, with the intention of making sure it doesn't get certified as a class-action suit. They don't want to be on the hook for paying a settlement essentially to themselves (and the Robbins' attorneys). And they don't want the district to quietly bury the affair with a large check.

The Inquirer's Joe Tanfani has a great story detailing the history of the case, from the decision to adopt the tracking software (while forgetting to tell anyone about it) to what really happened in the Robbins case. From his account, it sounds like an accumulation of largely well-intentioned-but-brain-dead mistakes. It's worth a read.

The lessons du jour? The unintended consequences of technology can come back and bite you in the behind (because that's where most of us keep our wallets).

Want to protect something? Putting it under lock and key, with a security cam trained on the door and a vicious Doberman in front of it, is one way to do it. But telling everyone about the lock, the cam, and the dog is an even better way. Security is more effective when it's not a secret.

That's my 2.7 cents, adjusted for inflation. What about yours? Post your thoughts below or email me: cringe@infoworld.com.

his article, "High school Webcam follies, part II: Dumb and dumber," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Robert X. Cringely's Notes from the Field blog.

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