Friday, 19 February 2010

The eyes have you.

Big Maaa is watching you.

(Picture re-educated from here.)

Cameras in your home, watching your every move, controlled remotely by some secretive and fervent drooling pervert with a nine-pack-a-day man-size tissue habit.

It can't happen. Nobody is going to let any authority do it. If they tried it we'd just tape over the cameras and pretend there was a technical problem. There is no way anyone will voluntarily allow a camera in their homes unless they are certain they control it themselves.


Bought a new laptop recently? Look at the top of the screen. Most of them have a built-in webcam but that's no problem. It's your webcam. You control it.

That's what these American kids thought when they received shiny Mac computers to help with their schoolwork. It never occurred to them that the donors of those laptops might have installed software to allow the cameras to be accessed remotely. Who would imagine such a thing? They are educational tools, nothing more.

Well, turns out they were a little more after all.

The district retained remote control of the built-in webcams installed on the computers – and used them to capture images of the students, according to a lawsuit filed in federal court this week.

The ruse was revealed when Blake Robbins, a student at Harriton high school, was hauled into the assistant principal Lindy Matsko's office, shown a photograph taken on the laptop in his home and disciplined for "improper behaviour".

Improper behaviour - in his own home! The kid was disciplined for something he did in private, at home, when he thought nobody was watching. What he did must be left to the imagination of the reader, but whatever it was it wasn't illegal. If it was illegal the police would have been involved. No, he did something in his own home which Big Brother deemed inappropriate. Big Brother was watching. Through a webcam this kid thought he had control over.

My computer has no camera attached. I have a laptop with a lid camera but it's no use to me so there's a bit of tape over it. Paranoid? Read the article again. I'm no computer wiz. I can't tell if that camera is on or not. There's no indicator light. I can't tell if there is software pre-installed that runs it. I can't tell if that software is running or not.

Keep in mind that this kid was shown a photo of this 'improper behaviour' when the school hauled him into Room 101. Then read the last paragraph:

"The district never activated the security feature for any other purpose or in any other manner whatsoever," he wrote. "We regret if this situation has caused any concern or inconvenience among our students and families."

They claim the webcam control is to catch someone who has stolen the laptop. They claim they have never used it for any other purpose. Yet they showed this kid a photo of whatever he was up to. The doublethink here is impressive. We say it didn't happen so it didn't happen, and it can't have happened because we say so, but the punishment stands because he was caught and we have the proof in the form of surveillance we are not doing.

There are already cameras in most homes. Eye toys, TVs which can be controlled by waving at the installed cameras, and so on.

Who's watching at the other end?

We'll find out when they ban smoking, then drinking, then fatty foods in the home.


Captain Ranty said...

I should be shocked and surprised.

But I'm not.

I have a pluggy in camera myself. I think I'll leave it unplugged.

Sneaky bastards.


Leg-iron said...

I don't have a camera friendly face so I've never bothered. I'm glad now.

The tinfoil-hatters always said this sort of thing was possible. I used to laugh at them. Seems they were on to something.

Anonymous said...

Don't worry about the webcams, it's the mobile phone in your house that can be switched on remotely and acts as a microphone for those who like to listen in.

ACR said...

What he did must be left to the imagination of the reader, but whatever it was it wasn't illegal. If it was illegal the police would have been involved.

My Spidey-sense says events will overtake you and these sentences will have to be altered.

Sir Henry Morgan said...

Hell of a thing if he was having a ciggy.

I will larf and larf and larf.

Sir Henry Morgan said...

And in line with what anon says above ... you don't even have to be switched on for your computer mike to be used to listen in on you.

If it can be done with mobile phones it can certainly be done with your laptop computer.

This is not tinfoil territory ... but as you said - they turned out to be right. I keep noticing that more and more.

Oh dear.

Anonymous said...

An ex software engineer, even I am paranoid about these things.

Sure, if you do enough detective work, you can isolate malware. But you have to know what you're looking for, first, unless you shut down everything with which you're not familiar. And the technology advances in leaps every day. Who can possibly keep up?

Micro$not have built in backdoor traps for the intelligence services for years.

Leg-iron said...

Anon - if you had said that yesterday I'd have laughed. Not today though.

ACR - No doubt there will be a 'correction to the historical record' at some point, which will involve the police being contacted at once. Even so, secret cameras are inadmissible evidence, especially since the camera operators deny even using them.

I hope they tie themselves in knots trying to get out of this.

Sir Henry, don't laugh too hard. And don't cough. If your microphone detects a cough, the Smoke Police will be alerted.

Sir Henry Morgan said...

Start the ciggy rumour.

"I read that ... "

Let's find out what nanny doesn't like.

Leg-iron said...

Fausty - all those updates... I have no idea what they're updating.

Newer versions of Windows won't work unless you register them. I hear Windows 7 requires you to phone a number to register. So it's not hard to work out who has which computer.

You have to tell them or it'll stop working!

itunes said...

I got an apple ipod recently and it's forever updating software. Pain in the arse.


Do you know how I can tell what application is getting updated ? It slows the computer down so if I found out what it was and I didn't need that application then I would just remove it.

Corrugated Soundbite said...

I keep blowing cigarette smoke into my webcam, so they can only have me for the one thoughtcrime. As for mobiles, mine is archaic. I have a hell of a job switching the thing on myself, let alone some mong in government trying it. Even Del Boy wouldn't sell it ;-)

Fausty - an ex software engineer? God I wish I was you!

View from the Solent said...

As an ex-softie like Faustie, I share his views. If you have a pc with a builtin webcam and microphone, tape over the cam and cover the mic with blu tac. If you neeed a cam or mic, buy plug-in ones. Then you ca disconnect them when not in use.

Anonymous said...

I read this a few days ago at boingboing and immediately thought of the laptops given out here, AND the big push to get more people connected up.

I wondered who'd be first on my feed to pick it up - might have guessed it would be LI.

Sir Henry could be right but I'm of the mind that he was maybe entertaining himself in another way!

The court papers are here if anyone's interested


g1lgam3sh said...

It's a start

Anonymous said...

There's always Ubuntu. Open source software. By definition open source software is open to scrutiny, unlike Micro$snot's virusware.

Unfortunately, Ubuntu's a bit of a learning curve for Windows users, but you can download an ISO (an image of a CD) which you can load and test live, to see if you like it, before you install. I have it on my laptop and its fast!

CS, I wish I took up art instead!

Anonymous said...

PS: When I installed a new SATA drive on my PC, windows wouldn't recognise it, despite feeding it the appropriate drivers. Ubuntu recognised it straight away. No configuring. No messing about. Online instantly - all peripherals instantly recognised and installed.

hangemall said...

Fausty 00:09

I put Ubuntu onto my my computer. Just to see what it was like. I visited OH's place a few times with it and even made at least one comment.

One day, I opened up the comments window to have a look at them. I accidentaly pressed the UP instead of the DOWN arrow. Near the top of the screen apeared the word "hangemall" in the colours of the "top bar" as I think of it.

How did it know who I was if I hadn't even posted anything on that occasion?

I removed Ubuntu pretty shortly after that. Better the devil you know......

Anonymous said...

I'm guessing you were using the built-in Firefox, hangemall. In which case it would've 'remembered' the username you last used. Alternatively if your Ubuntu login name was hangemall, it would've picked that up.

Firefox has its own user cache.

Anonymous said...

Correction: it might've picked that up. I'm not au fait with how Firefox interfaces with Ubuntu.

hamgemall said...

@ Fausty. Thanks for your comments. I did use the built-in Firefox. That might explain it. The login name wasn't hangemall.

Rob said...

I was struck by the complete and glaring lie the school told. It is such a massive and obvious lie, contradicted by their own acts!

Still, they'll be in a courtroom soon, so lying under oath will have more severe consequences than they are used to.

Hopefully prison time for someone.

john miller said...

I think it was you who said a few weeks ago that the Righteous are starting to trip over their own feet.

In this country, teachers are not allowed to have ANY photographs of their pupils on their computer. They can only be held on government issued encrypted USB sticks. It goes without saying that said pictures can only be of children during lessons or other school activities.

So can we imagine a scenario where it is acceptable for a teacher to periodically film children with the authorisation of the state when such an activity can result in them being sacked, have their carrer ruined,banned from being in contact with children and being entered on the state database under "paedo"?

We now have a situation where the Righteous tell you that something is a sin, unless they are the ones telling you to do it. Even religions don't quite achieve such braethtaking hypocrisy.

Unknown said...

He WAS smoking ...weed!

Comment #147
'Blake was smoking weed and, according to some of his friends, visiting pornographic websites.'

Well, did they really think a teenage lad wouldn't look for porn!

As for him smoking - it happened at home - let the parents deal with it.

Leg-iron said...

Jane - that's the point. What he was doing is irrelevant. The fact he was spied on by a secret camera in his home is the point.

Even if he was stabbing kittens with a sharpened spoon, reprehensible as it may be, he should not have been caught by a remote-controlled webcam on his computer.

And you're right. Give a teenage boy a computer and fast web access and he's on RedTube as fast as the thing can boot up. There's no need to check. It's safe to assume.

He's Spartacus said...

Nice quote from Victoria Coren on this story....

Have you seen the train platform at Farningham Road, Swanley? It's a great long stretch, completely open to the sky. It is a huge, airy Serengeti of space. Mrs Buchanan might just as well have trekked across the Sahara, shouting criticism through a megaphone at a distant farting nomad.

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