It’s not uncommon for schools to loan laptop computers to students — and it’s also not unheard of for those laptops to record students’ internet activities and go as far as monitoring students remotely via built-in webcams.
In 2010, a Philadelphia school made headlines when it was revealed that computers loaned to students were transmitting images of students to school administrators — and both students and their families were unaware. The software was meant to help prevent theft and aid in the recovery of school property in the event of a crime, but a family filed suit against the school, which turned into a class action on behalf of 1,800 students, contending that their privacy had been violated.
A Federal investigation resulted in no charges being filed against the district, as the FBI and others concluded that there was no criminal intent. 56,000 images were recorded to help the school police its property.
But legislators in New Jersey are worried that schools in their state could abuse this technology, and the Anti-Big Brother Act (A-2932), sponsored by Ruben Ramos, Jr. (D-Hudson) and Annette Quijano (D-Union), is designed to inform students and their families that their activities may be tracked by the district:
The bill would require a school district or charter school that furnishes a student with a laptop, cell phone or any other electronic device to provide the student with a written notice that it may record or collect information on the students’ activities if the device is equipped with a GPS, camera or similar feature.
Parents would have to sign the notice to show that they know and accept the terms of the borrowing agreement, which include understanding that the district may use tracking technologies.
Penalties for violations appear to be light at $250, but that could add up for a school or district whose policies are mismanaged:
If a school district fails to comply with the bill and does not provide students with the written notice, it would be subject to a $250 fine per incident, per child. The money collected from fines would be deposited into a fund to provide laptops for disadvantaged students.
There appears to be no compensation for individual students or families whose rights are violated.
The bill was approved by a 6-2 vote of the Assembly Education Committee. It will now come before the full New Jersey Assembly for consideration.