Apparently, according to Boing Boing, a high school in Pennsylvania supplied students with laptop computers … with the unusual and unannounced feature that the school could remotely turn on the webcams installed in the computers and watch the students away from the school, such as at home, without the students knowing about it.
A lot of people find this very offensive – but what is the offence, exactly, as a matter of law?
There is a class action going on, or seeking permission to be launched, in Pennsylvania, in part at least under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, which deals with unauthorized access to computers. Here the computers are having unauthorized access to the students (except that the issue is the school authorities’ access….). Would a court have any trouble finding that images captured by the webcam were data, access to which was unauthorized, even by the owner of the computer?
Is there a privacy offence in the provinces that do not have private-sector privacy laws? Assume that the school is not making commercial use of the images of the students, so PIPEDA would not apply.
What other ground of civil liability do you see?
Is there another criminal offence going on? Would it matter if any of the images seen (and capable of storage, whether or not routinely stored) could have some sexual content, if only seeing someone undressing? Would that create a child pornography offence?
Is it wiretapping (or illegal interception of communications)?