Well, well. This “school safety” stuff keeps getting more interesting.
I didn’t focus on the elements of the school safety task force’s report that dealt with teaching children to “be safe” on the Internet, because, well, they sounded pretty innocuous. Turns out I wasn’t paranoid enough.
EFF reports that DAs and police departments across the country have been distributing elderly spyware called “ComputerCop” to parents as part of feel-good “Internet Safety” events at schools. This apparently includes a “service” called “KeyAlert”, which allows parents to track their children’s keystrokes. When it collects those keystrokes, it also stores them unencrypted on your hard drive (on Windows machines) and transmits them, unencrypted, to a third-party server so that the parents can be emailed when chosen keywords are typed. And, as readers of this blog will know, law enforcement can then request that keylogged data from the third party without a warrant.
Well, that’s fabulous. Sounds pretty useful. For law enforcement. Why not, then, promote keyloggers on as many computers as possible? And as with social media, it looks like offering something for free really helps members of the public surveil themselves. EFF notes:
ComputerCOP does not have the ability to distinguish between children and adults, so law enforcement agencies that distribute the software are also giving recipients the tools to spy on other adults who use a shared computer, such as spouses, roommates, and coworkers. ComputerCOP addresses this issue with a pop-up warning that using it on non-consenting adults could run afoul of criminal laws, but that’s about it.
The lack of encryption is even more troubling. Security experts universally agree that a user should never store passwords and banking details or other sensitive details unprotected on one’s hard drive, but that’s exactly what ComputerCOP does by placing everything someone types in a folder. The email alert system further weakens protections by logging into a third-party commercial server. When a child with ComputerCOP installed on their laptop connects to public Wi-Fi, any sexual predator, identity thief, or bully with freely available packet-sniffing software can grab those key logs right out of the air.
Listen, I’m a parent, and I was once a teenager. It’s not like I don’t know that there are some child predators out there (though far fewer than the TV news would have parents believe). But this, once again, is a superficial solution pushed without regard for any consequences other than the intended one of making parents feel as if they are more in control. I know perfectly well that teenagers are going to use the Internet to search for things, and among those things will almost certainly, at some point, be sexually related material. But I’d tend to argue, in my typical “Liberty Democrat” fashion, that parental communication and comprehensive sex education based on facts rather than fear, is a better way to deal with these things than a free, bug-filled CD-ROM of keystroke logging software from your local police department.
It also looks like “ComputerCop” is a terrific example of “security grifting”. The manufacturer identifies agencies that have received windfalls from asset forfeiture or federal grants, and emails them offering “positive media attention for your Office” from holding giveaways of these disks. They tout fraudulent endorsements from the Treasury Department and even the ACLU. Local law enforcement buys them in bulk with your and my taxes – 1,000 or 5,000 at a time – and then launches them with great fanfare. It’s a great business model. It must be great not having to worry about whether your nominal product is good or not, so long as your actual product is good PR for law enforcement.
Oh, lookee here – guess what software product our own Suffolk County DA is touting to this day on the DA’s office website?
DA Conley believes that the Internet can be a great tool for learning, commerce, communication, and social networking. Unfortunately, as a career prosecutor, Conley has seen far too many instances of children and teenagers being put at risk or victimized by Internet predators.
To help parents protect their children, Conley introduced ComputerCop – a computer software program that allows parents to view and permanently delete potentially harmful images and information that have been downloaded on any home computer.
This software is easy to install and gives parents an added safeguard to make sure their children are using the Internet safely and responsibly. This software will not only aid in protecting children from harmful material on the Internet, but should also initiate a line of communication between parents and children regarding the positive and negative aspects of the Internet and its appropriate use.
For a complimentary copy of ComputerCop, for more information about the district attorney’s Internet Safety Program, or to schedule an Internet Safety presentation for teens or adults at a school or non-profit organization, please send a request by email to email@example.com. Please include your name and contact information, the name of your organization, and the kind of presentation that you are interested in.
[Source, in case they take this down: http://www.suffolkdistrictattorney.com/computercop-software/, accessed 10/02/2014.]
It looks, though, as if a 2010 press release lauding Conley bringing ComputerCop to Revere, in the manner of a great light to those who were living in unsurveilled darkness, has been taken down as of press time.
Would anybody like to email these folks to set up an “Internet Safety” presentation? I, and many people I know, would be very interested in attending. Not in the evenings, though; gotta spend all my evenings in right now after school, so I can stand over my kids’ shoulders and watch absolutely everywhere they go on the wild, sprawling, awesome World Wide Web. You know, for safety.