Some school misused the macbooks that they gave to their pupils. Full story:
LANrev software was used in the Lower Merion school district’s student laptop program, overseen by network technician Michael Perbix. In February of 2010, Perbix and other administrators in the district were accused of using the software to take undisclosed and unauthorized photographs of students through the webcams on their Macintosh laptops. A lawsuit was brought by Michael and Holly Robbins, the parents of 15 year-old sophomore, Blake Robbins, who was allegedly accused of illicit behavior seen through his computer’s webcam. The photographs, taken in laptops that were reportedly not stolen, were then allegedly used as evidence in a disciplinary action. The FBI stated that they would be closely investigating the incident, and a Philadelphia federal judge intervened to sort out issues relating to the lawsuit.
Perbix had previously praised Theft Track, the name of the feature that lets administrators remotely photograph potential thieves if a computer is reported stolen, noting in a Youtube video he produced that:
“It’s an excellent feature. Yes, we have used it, and yes, it has gleaned some results for us. But it, in and of itself, is just a fantastic feature for trying to—especially when you’re in a school environment and you have a lot of laptops and you’re worried about, you know, laptops getting up and missing. I’ve actually had some laptops we thought were stolen which actually were still in a classroom, because they were misplaced, and by the time we found out they were back, I had to turn the tracking off. And I had, you know, a good twenty snapshots of the teacher and students using the machines in the classroom.
LANrev’s new owner, Absolute Software staunchly denounced the use of their software for any illegal purpose, emphasizing that theft recovery should be left to law enforcement professionals. They further denied any knowledge of or complicity in either Perbix’s or the school district’s actions. Absolute stated that the next update of LANrev, which would ship in the next several weeks, would permanently disable Theft Track.
What does it have to do with Linux you ask? Well, according to the FSF, this all could be prevented if the kids would have Linux notebooks:
the real scandal here is the mandatory imposition of computers that students don’t control. This may not be as lurid a violation of freedom as a remote-activated webcam in a teenager’s bedroom, but it is the most central. Once people use computers they don’t completely control, that provides both a technical basis and a social/political slippery slope for sleazy sysadmins leering at your kids–or any other violation you can imagine.
And to be completely clear, when we say “computers they don’t control” we aren’t just talking about computers with DRM, backdoors, and monitoring software. Any computer running Windows, Mac OS X, Flash, or any proprietary software is a computer that you don’t control. This includes not just laptops and desktops, but also things like a Kindle, an iPhone, or an iPad.
When the software on your computer is proprietary, then you can’t know whether the light is coming on because of a glitch or because the camera is actually running. You can’t tell if your hard drive is spinning because you’re using it, or because someone else is using it. Only free software gives you the freedom to find the answers to these questions.
So what future will we as a society choose? A future based on free software, or one where high school students have to cover their webcams with tape?
Quite a spin! A school installs on Macbooks a software which can be used to spy on pupils, and Linux will fix it.. because… .. ehm, it’s free!
Unfortunately, it looks like LANrev could be ported to Linux soon:
And such remote administration software already exists for Linux anyway. The school scenario could work with Linux too, and everyone with a slight understanding of operating systems, and without an FSF agenda, knows this. What would prevent a school to give out Linux notebooks where a trojan is installed in the background? Nothing. Especially if the pupil would have only user access to it.
And now this is dishonest and insidious: So what future will we as a society choose? A future based on free software, or one where high school students have to cover their webcams with tape?
North Korea currently develops its own Linux distro. When they will implement website blockers directly into it, will the FOSSists stop them? Even if they wanted, they couldn’t. Source code means nothing in such scenarios. The school system could be run on a complete Open Source environment and it would be still possible.
If some sort of totalitarian government or organization forces you to use a certain software, then it’s irrelevant whether it’s “open source”. This is fake freedom. What really works against backdoors are a free press and a working justice system, so that the discovery of a backdoor comes costly for the organization that provides the software/hardware.
And it shows again what a dishonest bunch the FSF is.
More from the FSF:
This isn’t bad, but it sounds as if school computers get automatically a free pass if they run on Linux. That remote monitoring software could be installed on a Linux notebook as well, seems to fly over their heads.