The Kutztown 13
They’re being called the Kutztown 13—a group of high schoolers charged with felonies for bypassing security with school-issued laptops, downloading forbidden internet goodies and using monitoring software to spy on district administrators.
The students, their families and outraged supporters say authorities are overreacting, punishing the kids not for any heinous behavior—no malicious acts are alleged—but rather because they outsmarted the district’s technology workers….
The trouble began last fall after the district issued some 600 Apple iBook laptops to every student at the high school about 50 miles northwest of Philadelphia. The computers were loaded with a filtering program that limited Internet access. They also had software that let administrators see what students were viewing on their screens.
But those barriers proved easily surmountable: The administrative password that allowed students to reconfigure computers and obtain unrestricted Internet access was easy to obtain. A shortened version of the school’s street address, the password was taped to the backs of the computers.
The password got passed around and students began downloading such forbidden programs as the popular iChat instant-messaging tool.
At least one student viewed pornography. Some students also turned off the remote monitoring function and turned the tables on their elders_ using it to view administrators’ own computer screens.
There’s more to the story, though. Here’s some good commentary on the issue:
What the parents don’t mention—but the school did in a press release—is that it wasn’t as if the school came down with the Hammer of God out of nowhere.
These kids were caught and punished for doing this stuff, and their parents informed.
Over and over.
Quoth the release:
“Unfortunately, after repeated warnings and disciplinary actions, a few students continued to misuse the school-issued laptops to varying degrees. The disciplinary actions included detentions, in-school suspensions, loss of Internet access, and loss of computer privileges. After each disciplinary action, parents received either written notification or telephone calls.”
What was the parents’ reaction those disciplinary actions? Some of them complained that—despite signing a document agreeing to the acceptable use policy—the kids should be able to do whatever they wanted to with the free machines.
“We signed it, but we didn’t mean it”?
Yes, the kids should be punished. No, a felony comviction is not the way to punish them.
The problem is that the punishment doesn’t fit the crime. Breaking the rules is what kids do. Society needs to deal with that, yes, but it needs to deal with that in a way that doesn’t ruin lives. Deterrence is critical if we are to ever have a lawful society on the internet, but deterrence has to come from rational prosecution. This simply isn’t rational.
EDITED TO ADD (2 Sep): It seems that charges have been dropped.