Remote webcam activation now disabled in software that led to controversy at Pennsylvania school

Mel Martin
M. Martin|03.09.10

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Remote webcam activation now disabled in software that led to controversy at Pennsylvania school
The suburban Philadelphia school being investigated for spying on students using MacBook laptops will lose the ability to turn on the built-in cameras remotely when they update their security software.

Absolute Software, new owners of the LANrev remote administration suite (formerly owned and developed by Pole Position GmbH), say they are going to remove the webcam remote activation feature from the software this week.

In a note to customers today, the company said:

"We know that webcam pictures are an ineffective tool in tracking down the location of a stolen computer. Taking pictures of lawful computer users without their permission, and without law enforcement involvement, is contrary to Absolute's policies and is inconsistent with our existing, more effective product offering."

"Based on recent events, we have received many inquiries about TheftTrack from customers who are concerned and who want to ensure their organizations are not involved in a similar incident."

As a result, the webcam feature is being removed in all updated versions of the software as of tomorrow. Current customers still have the feature, but they are being advised by the company to get the latest update.

Meanwhile, the Philadelphia Inquirer is reporting that two I.T. employees of the Lower Merion School District have been placed on leave while an investigation continues.

The incident received national attention when the parents of a Harriton High School sophomore filed a federal lawsuit on February 16, alleging that school officials were activating the iSight cameras built into MacBook computers while students were using the computers at home.

The school has said the cameras were only turned on to locate stolen laptops, but several students said they saw the green camera light come on several times on computers that had not been reported stolen.

Federal Agents are also investigating, and have asked the school for all records relating to the incident.

The school says it has stopped using the software for accessing the webcams remotely. Over the last two years, the district has provided MacBooks to all 2,300 high school students.
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