Investigation of School Official Monitoring Students Raises Issue of Privacy Rights

28 02 2010

Photo courtesy of Flickr.

Facebook pages, Twitter updates, YouTube videos, blogs and other popular social media tools certainly demonstrate our culture’s tendency to favor transparency over privacy. Still, the recent controversy involving an FBI investigation into allegations that a Pennsylvania school official remotely monitored a student in his home causes one to question the boundaries of personal privacy.

The family of the student filed a lawsuit against the Lower Merion School District, accusing an assistant principal of spying on their son through his laptop’s webcam.

CNN reports:

“District Superintendent Christopher McGinley rejected allegations. ‘At no time did any high school administrator have the ability or actually access the security-tracking software,’ he said. ‘We believe that the administrator at Harriton has been unfairly portrayed and unjustly attacked in connection with her attempts to be supportive of a student and his family.’”

Still, school officials admit they failed to make families aware of laptop features that allow the school to monitor the computer hardware.

The Lower Merion School District would be within their legal rights to remotely access student laptops if one were reported lost or stolen. The correct procedure, so as to not violate privacy laws, is to request access from the district’s technology and security department and receive authorization before utilizing the security feature.

The development of new technologies such as the laptops’ security-tracking software certainly presents several advantages, yet the potential invasion of privacy undermines the benefits. The capability of school officials to remotely monitor unsuspecting students in their own homes has frightening implications. A simple abuse of power can easily result in the potential violation of students’ privacy rights, as demonstrated in the ongoing Pennsylvania investigation.

The ongoing Lower Marion School District investigation isn’t the only case regarding student privacy issues. A New York middle school assistant principal, Dan Ackerman, is at the center of a similar controversy. After the introduction of a new technology program, aimed at enhancing the education of its students, Ackerman openly details how he can activate student webcams and monitor their activities remotely.

In an interview with Frontline, Ackerman said:

“6th and 7th grade have cameras. This kid looks like they’re editing their MySpace page…they don’t even realize that we’re watching. I always like to mess with them and take a picture…nine times out of 10 they duck out of the way, then they shut down and get to work.”

For the sake of maintaining a certain degree of discretion, both online and in day-to-day life, let’s hope this is not a lasting trend. New technologies promoting transparency ought to be embraced, but those that endanger basic human privacy rights warrant serious re-evaluation.

By Ashley Dischinger


Live Web broadcasts of Woods press conference challenge major television networks

23 02 2010

Image courtesy of Flickr.

Regardless of your opinion of Tiger Woods’ widely publicized marital indiscretions, it’s impossible to deny the Web’s significant role in generating conversation surrounding public controversy. The latest in Woods’ dramatic saga comes after Friday’s press conference in which the golfer made his first public statement since the eruption of scandal back in November 2009.

The press conference was broadcast live on all major television networks, but it was the online sector that enjoyed an extensive audience.

Mashable reported:

“We thought the event might be huge given the interest in the Woods scandal and the fact that the event took place during the U.S. work day.”

Ustream hosted a live broadcast of Woods’ statement that echoed the powerful results that Mashable predicted. Ustream, a CBS News partner, drew over 683,000 viewers during the press conference. Ustream’s popularity draws from its easy accessibility for those in the workplace at the time of the 11 a.m. ET broadcast, leaving only the option of Internet viewing.

The site’s interactive and social media features generate additional page hits.  The Social Stream feature allows users to chat with people across the world over Twitter, providing a constant newsfeed. Ustream viewers were able to watch Woods’ statement while reading viewer’s comments and opinions in real time.

Users can opt to follow live updates by connecting to Ustream’s Twitter and Facebook pages. Mashable reported user contributions totaling 3,300 updates to the Social Stream and 93,000 tweets about the conference within the first hour. Viewer feedback through Twitter and the Social Stream was unfiltered and represented a wide range of opinions, both accepting and critical of Woods’ statement.

Livestream, Hulu and YouTube are other popular sources that streamed the press conference live. Mashable reported a total of millions of live viewers on Web sites alone.

Web sites like Ustream will continue to increase popularity of live broadcasts through social media integration. As society continues to migrate toward online news sources, the combination of live video streaming and social media will generate buzz about major media events in unprecedented ways.

By Ashley Dischinger

Downtown Raleigh offers variety of activities for FutureWeb participants

18 02 2010

Downtown Raleigh, location of April's Futureweb 2010 Conference, is home to a wide range of activities to entertain conference participants. Photo courtesy of Flickr.

The Raleigh Convention Center is conveniently located in the heart of downtown Raleigh, giving participants easy access to all that North Carolina’s state capitol has to offer. Looking for ways to maximize your experience during the downtime of FutureWeb 2010? The city offers a variety of activities, from attending nationally acclaimed ballet performances to enjoying local southern cuisine.  For more information about specific events, visit the Downtown Raleigh Alliance Web site.

Downtown Raleigh Map


For locations that are out of walking distance, take advantage of Raleigh’s newest eco-friendly transportation option: The R-Line, a free, hydro-electric bus system. Buses circulate throughout the city and have stops near restaurants, retail locations, entertainment venues, museums, hotels and other parking facilities downtown. Buses run every 10 to 15 minutes on the following schedule:

Mon-Wed (7 am-11 pm)

Thurs-Sat (7 am-2:15 am)

Sun (1 pm-8 pm)

Click here for a map of all the R-LINE stops.


Visitors staying at the convention center will find themselves in close proximity to an abundance of restaurants and cafes, ranging from casual to fine dining. Choose between Asian, French, German, Indian, Italian, Spanish, steakhouses, tapas and many others. A good number are within walking distance, including Poole’s Diner, Sam & Wally’s Eatery and Bar, Shish Kabob, Starbucks, Plaza Café and Deli and Chick-fil-A. Many eateries can be found along the R-LINE bus route.

Click here for a full list of nearby dining options.


Raleigh is home to some of the best cultural attractions that North Carolina has to offer. Visitors can attend a variety of performing arts shows, visit historical museums, peruse art galleries and explore the buildings of the state capitol.

Performing Arts Center: The Progress Energy Center for the Performing Arts is just around the corner, within walking distance of the convention center. Visitors can enjoy an evening out at a Broadway show or a nationally acclaimed Carolina Ballet performance. The venue is also home to the North Carolina Symphony and the Fletcher Opera Center.

IMAX: The Wachovia IMAX Theater can be found at one of the R-LINE stops downtown. The theater hosts North Carolina’s only 3D-capable giant screen, giving viewers the ultimate movie experience. Tickets may be purchased either online or onsite, and advanced ticket purchase is recommended due to the popularity of the theater.

State Capitol: The North Carolina State Government buildings are popular tourist sites. The North Carolina Executive Mansion, State Archives, Capitol Building, State Legislature and City Museum all offer tours of their respective facilities.

NC Museum of Natural Sciences: The Museum of Natural Sciences is the largest of its kind in the Southeast. Home to numerous exhibits, programs and field experiences, it provides visitors of all ages with insight into the natural world. The museum is adjacent to the NC Museum of History, founded in 1902 and known for its impressive collections and unique exhibits.

Click here for a full list of Raleigh’s entertainment venues.


Looking for a fun way to spend your nights? Downtown Raleigh hosts an abundance of nightlife options, including a local bar scene, lounges and live entertainment that draw eclectic crowds. The city’s local music scene is highly respected, with live performances by local bands at many venues.

Click here for more information regarding the city’s nightlife.


Downtown Raleigh shopping features a variety of options, whether you’re looking to browse retail art galleries, clothing and accessories, home furnishing, antiques or sports memorabilia. Many local shops are within walking distance of the convention center.

Click here for a detailed map of shopping options.

By Ashley Dischinger

Apple unveils anticipated iPad

3 02 2010

Last week, Apple introduced its highly anticipated tablet computer device, the iPad. The iPad acts similarly to the popular iPhone, running existing applications from the Apple apps store but with a much larger, nearly 10-inch screen. It is currently priced at $499 (not including applications, which will cost around $4 each).

According to Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple, the iPad will be about a half-inch thick and weigh about 1½ pounds.

“What this device does is extraordinary,” Jobs said in an interview with CNN. “It is the best browsing experience you’ve ever had. … It’s unbelievably great … way better than a laptop. Way better than a smartphone.”

The iPad will allow users to read books, newspapers and magazines electronically, chat with friends, type and surf the Web.

However, the long awaited tablet device has been receiving scrutiny from hopeful admirers, and not just for it’s name being linked to a woman’s personal hygiene product.

The iPad does not have a camera (although Apple has already announced a camera connection kit which will include a $30 pair of adapters which will let you either plug the camera in direct or plug in an SD card to pull out the photos). It also does not have a USB port, phone, or Flash capability and there have been talks of its inability to run multiple applications at one time.

“The innovation is going to be limited to what’s possible [on the iPad], you know,” said Peter Farago, vice president of marketing at Flurry, a group that tracks app sales in a CNN interview. “I don’t think imagination can override the true limits of what’s offered.”

The iPad, used as an attempt to save print journalism some say, may still be in too much of its infancy to produce what users want while slapping on an expensive price tag.

“A large fraction of the public doesn’t read the news online as they did in print,” said Pablo Boczkowski of Northwestern University in an interview with Slate Magazine.

“They’re more interested in browsing, searching, linking, and interacting than they are in long, sustained intakes of information. “Put differently,” he said, “getting the news online is normally surfing, less often snorkeling, and very rarely scuba diving. Most people need a simple surfboard, rather than the complex—and costly—diving gear.”

According to Apple, there will be many more versions of the iPad to come. Only time will tell if the device becomes the next everyday household item or if it is merely a passing technological fad.

-By Laura Smith