And People Trust Government?

I have total sympathy with those who distrust corporations.  Distrust and skepticism are fine things, and are critical foundations to individual responsibility.   History proves that market mechanisms tend to weed out bad behaviors, but sometimes these corrections can take time, and in the mean time its good to watch out for oneself.

However, I can't understand how these same people who distrust the power of large corporations tend to throw all their trust and faith into government.  The government tends to have more power (it has police and jails after all, not to mention sovereign immunity), is way larger, and the control mechanisms and incentives that supposedly might check bad behavior in governments seldom work.

Here is a great example of behavior that is inconcieveable in the private sector, or, if found at a private company, would quickly result in its extinction.

The system that Lower Merion school officials used to track lost and stolen laptops wound up secretly capturing thousands of images, including photographs of students in their homes, Web sites they visited, and excerpts of their online chats, says a new motion filed in a suit against the district.

More than once, the motion asserts, the camera on Robbins' school-issued laptop took photos of Robbins as he slept in his bed. Each time, it fired the images off to network servers at the school district.

Back at district offices, the Robbins motion says, employees with access to the images marveled at the tracking software. It was like a window into "a little LMSD soap opera," a staffer is quoted as saying in an e-mail to Carol Cafiero, the administrator running the program.

"I know, I love it," she is quoted as having replied.

Anyone want to be how many of the guilty in this case will be around in 5 years.  The over / under from Vegas is "all."

  • Mark

    Something I find interesting, but is not discussed in articles about this case is the potential for the schools to have collected "child porn"

    These computers were in the kids bedrooms, so I wouldn't be surprised if images were snapped of kids getting undressed, being naked, or doing auto-sexual things that 13 year old boys are prone to do.

    If the school is in possession of any photos like that - even if they were taken inadvertently, you would think they could get in much more serious trouble.

  • anon

    I have some lefty friends who rant on and on about how they distrust the police, yet they have no problem trusting the rest of the government.

    I don't know how they do it.

  • morganovich

    my personal favorite are the people who rail at health insurance companies for abusing their "monopoly power" and want "single payor" instead.

  • Sean

    As scarry as this is, consider one other tracking device that has been bantied around. Most roads are paid for by gasoline taxes. As we move to electrics, plug in hybrids or just run of the mill high MPG gasoline powered hybrids and natural gas powered vehicles, the amount of taxes collected per mile driven is dimishing. It is considering levying taxes base on the amount you drive every year. Now the government cannot just have its own odometer in your vehicle and charge use based on the total miles driven, it wants a GPS device so it can follow where you've been. Will we have to give up our privacy for the privlidge of driving?

  • Jim Collins

    Sean,

    I've said it before and I'll say it again. Where does our Government get the ability to grant us "privledges"? Last time I checked they supposedly work for us.

  • DrTorch

    One reason I look at blogs like this is for a sanity check, "I can't be the only one who things these things are disturbing."

    The article providing this story had plenty of disturbing quotes,

    Many of us expect to be subject to certain kinds of video surveillance when we leave our homes and go out each day - at the ATM, at traffic lights, or in stores, for example," [said Arlen] Specter.

    Uh, we do?

    But at least the school admin knows how to use her rights!
    "Cafiero, declined to answer Haltzman's questions, asserting her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination"

  • Methinks

    OK.

    One more time for this old Soviet immigrant. Somebody tell me "it can't happen here". Just one more time. I need a laugh today.

  • Michael

    This is just a follow up to when the story broke. The school got caught because they disciplined a few kids for what they were doing at home. If not for the stupidity of the administrators, this would still be going on.

  • tomw

    Stupidity is *still* not illegal. The district will be facing a big legal bill and likely some 'compensation'. Which will be paid by all the local taxpayers... Not some deep-pockets target.
    Why do school districts supply laptops? They all look alike, can be dropped, stepped on and stolen with no one being able to identify theirs from the one that is in a bazillion pieces.
    Seems that 1984 is a few years late, no?
    tom

  • mesaeconoguy

    People are dumb.

  • Vilmos

    Tomw:

    > Seems that 1984 is a few years late, no?

    The problem is that for many, Orwell's 1984 is not a warning but a manual. (read somewhere on the net)

    BTW what about this?
    End Policing for Profit
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/scott-bullock/end-policing-for-profit_b_534553.html (via Tigerhawk)

    Vilmos

  • http://timpanogos.wordpress.com Ed Darrell

    I'm intrigued that you think private companies can't do this, or don't, and that if they get caught, there would be hell to pay.

    On what basis do you say those things? Are there any laws you know which would stop a private employer from using such software on computers issued to employees? Is there any principle of law which would give an employee recourse?

  • John Anderson

    Ed, you miss the point. Coyote is pointing out that a great many people rail against corporations for "behaving badly" but are perfectly willing to hand over control of their lives to the government, despite stories like this that point out that governments can behave just as badly, if not more. And even if government workers are caught doing stuff like this, they rarely get as punished as corporations do via bad PR leading to decreased business.

  • http://http//www.tinyvital.com/blog John Moore

    I suspect lefties trust government because they don't understand human nature, especially the difference between how people really behave in the presence of incentives, and the idealistic view of how they "should" behave.

    Hence they imagine that the quest for profits is an all-encompassing, amoral quest for dominance, at any cost. At the same time, they imagine the government populated with smart, altruistic public "servants."

    It is this attitude that causes them to be so focused on the education and credentials of government officials - the officials (unless military or Republican) are naturally going to do good, so the smarter they are (and liberals measure that in an odd way - by college degrees), the more good they can do.

    Liberals constantly demonstrate the difference between smart and wise.

  • http://timpanogos.wordpress.com Ed Darrell

    I suspect it's just that several of you don't understand the issue, or what governments can and can't get away with, and what private companies do.

    Can you name a private company that has had its hands slapped for such spying? Companies regularly scan e-mail and check telephone conversations -- and it's legal.

    I suspect Moore's bizarre claims that leftists trust government is based on misunderstanding of the left, too (hint: Think Vietnam, think Watergate -- no leftist has forgotten either one).

    Conservatives and right wing nuts constantly claim liberals are neither smart nor wise, while themselves demonstrating an astounding ignorance and naivete about how the world works.

    Smart people in government tend to work better than stupid people in government. We learned that with George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, to mention a few. It's a mark of conservative ignorance that anyone would make such a bizarre claim without thinking what a slam it is at true American heroes.

    Thought of any company that's ever been hauled up for spying on employees? No, I didn't think you would.

  • Matt

    Victimization = Good. Aggression and an attempt to succeed in a free society = Bad.

    51+% of the populace wallows in victimization, willing to vote for a Leader who will take them to the Promised Land, and avenge the bad, evil people who are seeking to exploit them.

    There is a never-ending, infinite supply of politicians who will lay claim to be the Savior to save the people from the wicked Aggressors. This, despite the fact that the populace has complete, utter control over and any all 'corporations'. They can refuse to do business with them at any time. They cannot refuse to do business with the government...because they have no choice.

    But accepting that you have choices and power over corporations is too easy. That requires making decisions for yourself, living with the consequences of your choices, and believing that you are not entitled to anything in this world.

    Much easier to play The Victim and blame someone else for your own decisions, live in denial, practice cognitive dissonance, and sign over your rights to FDR, Lyndon Johnson, Barack Obama, or some other savior to come and protect you from the wicked aggressors.

  • markm

    Ed: "Companies regularly scan e-mail and check telephone conversations — and it’s legal." Companies often check on what their employees do with company equipment,on company time. Now name a company that planted cameras in teenagers' bedrooms - as policy approved by the local manager.

    I've been following this story for a while. Apparently, the school decided to lo-jack the laptops it loans out for kids to take home as well as to class. That's a good idea in itself, since laptops are a favorite target of thieves. But rather than installing a program that would attempt to trace the location of a computer that had been reported stolen through the network, their network admin installed a program that activated the camera in the laptop and transmitted pictures...

    at random times, whether or not the laptop was reported missing

    ...and school officials sat around watching those pictures.

    If it wasn't a government agency doing this, the prosecutor would call it a child porn ring.

  • spiro

    "Can you name a private company that has had its hands slapped for such spying? Companies regularly scan e-mail and check telephone conversations — and it’s legal."

    I hope you understand the difference between a corporation tracking what their paid, adult employees do on company time in accordance with a contract stating your right to do so, and secretly taking random pictures of what children do in their bedrooms. If not, then I think you just reaffirmed our assumptions about liberals. I pasted them below to remind you.

    From Ed also:
    "Conservatives and right wing nuts constantly claim liberals are neither smart nor wise.."

    Ed, do you have any evidence to persuade us to think otherwise? After all, you are taking the position of defending a school district for producing and distributing voyeur child porn to its employees. What corporation has EVER done that?

  • http://timpanogos.wordpress.com Ed Darrell

    I hope you understand the difference between a corporation tracking what their paid, adult employees do on company time in accordance with a contract stating your right to do so, and secretly taking random pictures of what children do in their bedrooms. If not, then I think you just reaffirmed our assumptions about liberals. I pasted them below to remind you.

    Sure there's a difference. That doesn't change the fact that employers spy on their employees all time. In any major city there are companies that spy on employees with all the advanced spying devices they can get, to check to be sure employees are not cheating on medical and workers comp claims, to check them out for promotion, to look for reasons to fire them, or just for the heck of it. Show me a company who issues Apple Macbooks to employees, I'll show you a likely candidate for just exactly the sort of spying this school district did.

    And of course, that spying would include the bedrooms of the employees.

    So, I gather no one else here has ever worked HR in a major corporation? The naivete is just astounding.

    From Ed also:
    “Conservatives and right wing nuts constantly claim liberals are neither smart nor wise..”

    Ed, do you have any evidence to persuade us to think otherwise? After all, you are taking the position of defending a school district for producing and distributing voyeur child porn to its employees. What corporation has EVER done that?

    I'm not defending the school board. I'm calling the bluff on the claim that private corporations are more moral than school district officials and would not conduct such spying. That's completely laughable.

    None of you remember the discrimination suit against Texaco? None of you has any clue about how or why we have the EEOC, and the employment rules under the 1964 Civil Rights Act?

    No, there's nothing I could say to persuade you of any rational view. One cannot generally persuade a person out of a position, using reason, that the person didn't use reason to get to in the first place.

  • http://timpanogos.wordpress.com Ed Darrell

    After all, you are taking the position of defending a school district for producing and distributing voyeur child porn to its employees. What corporation has EVER done that?

    For example, using reason, you could have checked my actual views on the issue, at least with what is publicly available.

    http://timpanogos.wordpress.com/2010/02/20/school-issued-computers-as-spy-devices/
    http://timpanogos.wordpress.com/2010/02/25/brain-rot-in-the-lower-merion-school-district/

    Research doesn't appear to be a strong suit here. You'd do well to read that first post and look at the links.

  • Zach

    Nobody's claiming that corporations wouldn't do such spying. Coyote even says he's 100% sympathetic to those who don't trust them. But corporations are made entirely of voluntary relationships, almost always with consenting adults. And the kids that work there are treated with kid gloves, usually. The school district is dealing entirely with people who are incapable of giving legal consent to most things, and who are compelled to be there by law. They are different worlds entirely, to say nothing of the child porn implications.

  • spiro

    "Show me a company who issues Apple Macbooks to employees, I’ll show you a likely candidate for just exactly the sort of spying this school district did. And of course, that spying would include the bedrooms of the employees. "

    Speculation. Please give me a REAL example of a corporation that secretly spied on people in their homes without consent. You can't. Businesses carefully avoid situations like this because of the possible damage to their reputation and possible lawsuits. The government, on the other hand, makes the laws and is therefore more likely to take action above the law.

    But more importantly, why are you so paranoid about private corporations? When did a corporation to send thousands to war? When did a corporation to go door to door, using armed enforcement as a back-up, gathering private information on citizens in the U.S.? When did a corporation freeze all your accounts and put you in prison for not paying them, even if you never use their products?

    Because these are actions the U.S. government takes daily.

  • http://timpanogos.wordpress.com Ed Darrell

    HP got caught (you've forgotten already?). Forbes offered a primer on how to spy legally without getting caught:
    http://www.forbes.com/2006/10/25/leadership-hewlett-packard-spying-lead-manage-cx_hc_1025fiveways.html

    PC World warns that company spying is commonplace, and legal:
    http://pcworld.about.com/news/Oct062004id118072.htm

    Boeing paid a $14.5 million fine to California for spying on employees -- this Seattle PI should dispel any myths about companies not spying on every detail of their employees' lives:
    http://www.seattlepi.com/business/339881_boeingsurveillance16.html

    That article closes out with this advice:

    Robert Ellis Smith, a lawyer and the publisher of Privacy Journal, a monthly newsletter, called whistle-blower protections the "wild card" in employee protections.

    "Protections against electronic surveillance are virtually non-existent in the workplace," Smith said. "The one wild card for this is federal protections for whistle-blowers. Aside from that, the privacy laws are quite weak."

    Spiro, it's more than speculation -- as you could have discovered with a quick search. Businesses do it all the time because they lack the conscience that real humans have. They are not bound by privacy protection laws the way governments, especially school districts are (see the Buckley Amendment from 1974).

    You have real corporations caught secretly spying on employees in every aspect of their daily lives without employee consent, in the examples I've offered -- and I'm just on page one of the Google search.

    I am not paranoid at all about private corporations, but I am a realist. My experience, in government, in big companies, in small companies, and in school districts, is that y'all don't really have a clue what you're talking about. Private companies are not more moral than public employees in school districts -- private companies don't face nearly the audit pressure.

    We're not talking about school districts sending thousands to war, either -- but you may want to look up the company Blackwater and whatever its new name is before you start claiming companies don't go to war. No one has accused any school district of going door-to-door with arms to get information about people. I don't know what sort of wild hare you're off on.

    When did a corporation freeze all accounts? It happens daily. Do you have direct deposit? You've consented to let your employer into your bank account, and that includes the ability to pull funds out and insist that the bank stop your access until things are sorted out (yes, it happened to me).

    Our host here said of the Lower Merion SD case: "Here is a great example of behavior that is inconcieveable in the private sector, or, if found at a private company, would quickly result in its extinction."

    As I've shown, it's not only not inconceivable to the cynics among us, it is well known to those of us who have ever had to track such issues.

    Pick up a good book on the Karen Silkwood case sometime. No corporate extinction there. Boeing is still going strong. So is HP. So is Texaco, though under different ownership (due to other stupid corporate tricks).

    We have 15,000 school districts in the nation, with one caught with their eyes in the web-cams. It's clearly not cricket, though maybe legal, for school districts. Why don't we hear about it more in private companies? It's perfectly legal for them to do it. Who would rat? What would the penalty be?

    I've offered only evidence of those companies caught. There are many more of those than school districts caught.

    Consider the numbers, consider the odds, consider the evidence.

  • http://timpanogos.wordpress.com Ed Darrell

    Please check your spam filter for my most recent response -- maybe too link-rich. They are links you probably wish to see.

  • http://assistantvillageidiot.blogspot.com Assistant Village Idiot

    Ah, we're supposed to check out ed's other writings, instead of just holding him responsible for his writing here. I've got 2300 posts over at my site. I figure you should read 10% of those before disagreeing with me.

    "And it's legal." Well, that's actually quite a large difference. I am imagining the conversation where I work if we started receiving broadcast photos from an issued computer in the bedroom of an employee: "Holy crap, we are going to get our asses sued for receiving this! Can you shut it off? Can you erase it? I don't care if you see him selling crack and giving secrets to the Iranians, just get that thing out of here!"

    Now, GPS units that track where they're taking the company car, hair samples that show what they've been smoking, and any number of other intrusions are indeed troubling, and companies have no scruples about what they can get with permission. But the worry is these government employees didn't have an immediate, reflexive response that "maybe we're not allowed to do this." They don't think like that.

  • http://timpanogos.wordpress.com Ed Darrell

    Ah, we’re supposed to check out ed’s other writings, instead of just holding him responsible for his writing here.

    No, just don't get it wrong in the first place. It's not difficult to get facts straight. Especially when you want to accuse me of something, I don't hide my views.

    But the worry is these government employees didn’t have an immediate, reflexive response that “maybe we’re not allowed to do this.” They don’t think like that.

    Probably hired from the private sector, where such an "immediate, reflexive response" isn't known.

  • sethstorm


    Now, GPS units that track where they’re taking the company car, hair samples that show what they’ve been smoking, and any number of other intrusions are indeed troubling, and companies have no scruples about what they can get with permission. But the worry is these government employees didn’t have an immediate, reflexive response that “maybe we’re not allowed to do this.” They don’t think like that.

    The first one might have some valid security interest, but the latter (when used for legally consumable substances) is an intrusion upon someone's private life no matter who does it.


    Probably hired from the private sector, where such an “immediate, reflexive response” isn’t known.

    ...whereupon they consult the Legal department on how to legally get rid of anyone whom objects/blows the whistle.

  • Rick C

    " Show me a company who issues Apple Macbooks to employees, I’ll show you a likely candidate for just exactly the sort of spying this school district did. "

    I've worked for two different companies in the last few years that issued laptops to employees. One of them issued laptops to contractors. Neither employed such forms of spying--although one did have whole-disk encryption to prevent information loss if one were stolen.

  • ADiff

    Gee, and to think all one needed do was uninstall the appropriate drivers from the OS...or even just over the camera with a bit of tape, or even gum.

    The smarter they get, the stupider they get too.

  • http://freedomactionnow.wordpress.com ZZMike

    I have to wonder how those laptops managed to take pictures while turned off. And when people turn off a laptop, they usually close it. At least, they don't often put it in their bedroom, facing them, or carry them around the house, turned on, pointing out at the family.

  • http://timpanogos.wordpress.com/?s=merion Ed Darrell

    Testing. 1, 2, 3, testing.