The Lower Merion School District’s laptop brouhaha has been garnering a significant amount of print and air time since a lawsuit was filed claiming the school district used the laptops to spy on students. The Lower Merion case is notable for the sheer number of laptops issued to an entire school population without much forethought of privacy issues. However, there have already been several instances of employees discovering they have been secretly monitored by security systems installed on laptops issued by their employers. Employers monitor employee computer use and internet activity for a variety of reasons. Security programs can tell the employer whether the employee is limiting the computer’s use to work related matters or surfing the web on the employer’s dime. They can also alert the employer to possible instances of corporate espionage and other illegal activity.
The key word here is DISCLOSURE. If an employer (or school district) makes a laptop available to an employee or student, it should make full disclosure of the security system features and notify the user that it can be turned on at anytime to track the laptop’s whereabouts. If the user then willingly accepts the laptop and signs a consent form acknowledging awareness of the security features, the employer or school district has alleviated any privacy concerns.
In the Lower Merion case, one wonders whether the IT gurus or school administrators who came up with the laptop program ever bothered to consult the school district’s legal counsel? Schools obtain parental consent forms for children to attend field trips and activities off school premises. Yet, no one ever thought of a parental consent form for a school-issued laptop to children? Or did they just think no one would notice the webcam?