February 22, 2010, 9:29 AM — A Pennsylvania school district is under fire, and facing a potential class-action lawsuit related to allegations that it spied on students in their homes using school-issued laptops. Organizations have a right, and sometimes even an obligation, to monitor activity on their computers or network, but the ethics involved are often hazy.
The Lower Merion School District may have felt it had a right to monitor activity on the Macbooks because the notebooks were issued by the school. If the allegations in the case against the district are valid, though, it would seem that the school district unilaterally overstepped its bounds as educators into parenting, and also crossed some legal boundaries by monitoring without notice or consent.
Doug Taylor, director of educational marketing for Spectorsoft, a leading vendor of PC and Internet monitoring software, explains "Today, many schools are adopting 1:1 laptop programs where students are assigned a laptop which is owned by the school, but that they are allowed to bring home for schoolwork. Monitoring the PC and Internet activities of these machines is vital to make sure students are not using them in an inappropriate manner such as downloading potential malware, or illegal copyrighted material such as songs, or cyber-bulling others."
"Both filtering and monitoring are required by CIPA (Childhood Internet Protection Act) in order to protect students while on campus or away from the school network and district filtering servers. Monitoring and filtering of Internet activities is also a typical part of a school's written and signed Acceptable Use Policy" continued Taylor.
Is it right for an employer, or parent to monitor a PC? That is an ethical issue that is subject to individual interpretation. Some would call it a responsibility. Others would call it an invasion of privacy.
For IT administrators, the first question to consider is "do you know what your employees are doing online?" The second question is "do you have a right or obligation to know what your employees are doing online?"
For business networks, monitoring of PC and network activity is a practical means to increase employee productivity, protect the company from legal liability for inappropriate or malicious activities, and provide an efficient and cost-effective system for complying with various regulatory requirements. Monitoring can also automate proactive efforts to protect employees from various forms of harassment or unfair treatment in the workplace.