If you haven’t been to high school for a few years you’re probably already aware that quite a bit has changed. Technology has changed the face of school systems worldwide and made information more universally accessible to both students and teachers. But after a recent scandal involving school officials spying on students in their own homes, the idea has all the makings of an episode of the Twilight Zone. Teachers in some school districts are now remotely watching students through their laptops’ webcams. The laptops are government issued through the school and the teachers proudly demonstrated for PBS Frontline‘s crew with the chilling words, “They don’t even know they’re being watched.”
The controversial new practice has many parents and students outraged. But the conspiracy theories only begin there. It is now standard for new models of laptops to have with them webcam systems and microphones. And if you say it would never be abused by the issuers, one incident in Pennsylvania seems to suggest otherwise. In Rosemont Pennsylvania, school administrators turned on one student’s webcam in his home for reasons unknown while the computer was on in his home and then contacted him accusing him of selling drugs when they caught him on video. The student was unaware he had been photographed and his laptop had been remotely activated to turn on the surveillance camera.
And if the idea of school officials dropping surveillance drones all throughout its school districts’ homes isn’t enough to fuel Big Brother style nightmares then what about private hackers? Could a hacker sneak software onto an individual’s computer and then remotely activate systems like webcams to watch them in their own homes? And if the resources were beyond an individual hacker, what of the worlds’ governments which are now reportedly increasingly interested in cyber security? Could we one day look at our laptops as they look back at us, understanding that at any moment the visuals from the standard computer camera was used not only to video chat, but also to watch our every move?
The telescreens in George Orwell’s 1984 have often been cited as a caricature of the surveillance state, with their morbidly omnipresent vision serving more as a symbol than something that would really be allowed in a society. But with the advent of these new camera technologies, the systems may come about even without government influence. We may be installing telescreens in our own homes and taking them with us wherever we go. But in this scenario it seems those peering in to our personal lives may not be the government or a central public figure, but rather anyone with the technical know-how to make it happen. And whatever information they gain from the systems could be exploited any number of ways. Horrifying, but it seems we have taken the first few steps into that disturbing reality. The question is, can we go back? Or do we as a society even wish to? The reactions of the parents at this school as well as the school administrators themselves may speak volumes about the future.
In the mean time, there’s no way hackers could remotely turn on our webcams without us knowing it, right? The experts at Prevx show quite a different picture.