Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Panopticon

"The Panopticon is a type of prison building designed by English philosopher and social theorist Jeremy Bentham in 1785. The concept of the design is to allow an observer to observe (-opticon) all (pan-) prisoners without the prisoners being able to tell whether they are being watched, thereby conveying what one architect has called the "sentiment of an invisible omniscience."[1]

Bentham himself described the Panopticon as "a new mode of obtaining power of mind over mind, in a quantity hitherto without example."[2]]

This also applies to unauthorized spying as seen by the spycam scandal rocking the quiet world of Harriton High School in Lower Merion PA.

"Plaintiffs and Class members were never informed that the webcam incorporated into the students’ personal laptop computer could be remotely activated … at the whim of the School District, and that such activation would naturally capture images of anything in front of the webcam at the time of its activation. In as much as the personal laptop computers were used by students of the high schools and their families, it is believed and therefore averred that the School District has the ability to and has captured images of Plaintiffs and Class members without their permission and authorization [and] that many of the images … may consist of images of minors and their parents or friends in compromising or embarrassing positions, including, but not limited to, in various stages of dress or undress.”

To get the real skinny on this sorry affair, click on Strye Hax, a real pro on security and surveillance. The info seen here is chilling to say the least.

We Found the Glitch, Mrs. Buttle
The truly amazing part of this story is what's coming out from comments from the students themselves. Some of the interesting points:

Possession of a monitored Macbook was required for classes

Possession of an unmonitored personal computer was forbidden and would be confiscated

Disabling the camera was impossible

Jailbreaking a school laptop in order to secure it or monitor it against intrusion was an offense which merited expulsion

When I spoke at MIT about the wealth of electronic evidence I came across regarding Chinese gymnasts, I used the phrase "compulsory transparency". I never thought I would be using the phrase to describe America, especially so soon, but that appears to be exactly the case. On a familiar note, the authorities are denying everything. As one reads comments on this story, a consistent story begins to emerge:

"My name is Manuel Tebas. I was a student at Harriton High School, in the graduating class of 2009. We were the first year on the one-to-one laptop initiative. [...] I saw your post about removing webcam capability from the Macbook. It is possible - I did it last year. I will preface this by saying that when I did it, I was almost expelled, saved only by the fact that there was, at the time, no rule against doing so."




Here's a small sampling of surveillance cameras courtesy of Panopticon

The Prisoner beckons.
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