The US government has decided not to prosecute school administrators who used laptop cameras to spy on students in their homes.
Officials from Pennsylvania’s Lower Merion School District in got in trouble earlier this year when it was revealed that they had used school-issued laptops supplied to students to photograph them at home. Wired.com coverage of the case quotes a legal filing that states “thousands of webcam pictures and screen shots” were taken of students in their homes, sometimes in bed or partially dressed (“School District Allegedly Snapped Thousands of Student Webcam Spy Pics,” April 16, 2010).
Although a civil suit against the school is still open, federal prosecutors have pled insufficient evidence to establish criminal intent.
Every now and then, a turf battle between bureaucrats or the need to keep up appearances of legitimacy leads to criminal proceedings against professional tyrants. But it’s not surprising that the federal government won’t be prosecuting these e-peeping bureaucrats.
Schools have an established role in government efforts to police behavior. High school students are expected to submit to total surveillance through police dogs, locker searches, cameras, and mandatory drug tests. As shown by the suspension of teachers for discussion the rights of citizens during police encounters, any obstacle to authority getting what it demands is viewed as an offense (see my Center for a Stateless Society commentary Is Learning How to Flex Your Rights Inappropriate for School?).
Creating an environment of submission for youth teaches unquestioning obedience early in life, which in turn makes it easier for federal bureaucrats to get away with whatever intrusive measure of the moment the megalomaniac-industrial-complex might fancy.
The computer surveillance case presents a literal depiction of government’s nature, that of Trojan Horse. The purpose of government is to enable some to exert power over others. When rulership is the ultimate end, all intermediate ends become subject to increasing the power of authority.
Buried in every government program, even one ostensibly centered around providing school laptops to students, is the incentive to use it to gain power. If the administrator wants to find new ways of controlling his wards’ behavior, he can use a school technology program to spy on them in their homes like the creepy busybody he is.
Government will not intentionally limit itself. It is up to us to limit its ability to govern.