Why I Wanted a Do-It-Yourself Anti-Spy Shade for My Built-In WebCam

If you haven’t heard of the case of Blake J. Robbins v. Lower Merion School District, read up on it @ Wikipedia. Basically, a school district issued Macbooks to students. The computers had security software that allowed remote activation. The security software allowed technicians to capture snapshots of IM, web browsing, music playlists, and written work. The computers had built-in video cameras. The security software could

be programmed to automatically capture webcam pictures and screen captures and store them on the hard disk for later retrieval in areas of the computer’s memory that are not accessible by the student and can be deleted remotely. (Wikipedia, 2010)

Apparently, two student council members voiced concern re. the possibility of the web cams being used without their knowledge. According to the Wikipedia article, neither the laptop program PR materials nor the individual contracts signed by participating students mentioned the remote activation feature. Surprise: The school district remotely activated the webcams. The school stated that it only activated the software when computers were lost or stolen. It is alleged that the school district remotely activated the web cams numerous times over the last two years.

So why Blake Robbins? Well, the lawsuit states that the school disciplined him for inappropriate behavior at his home via a photo taken with the remotely activated webcam. (For more details, see Wikipedia).The claim is that the schools use of the webcams violates Constitutional rights of privacy, Pennsylvania common law & US Civil Rights.

After reading this, I looked up at that built-in web cam in my Macbook Pro issued by my employer. My employer has the right to review how I use this laptop—even when I’m at home with it. Looking at the web cam also made me recall a Criminal Minds episode, “The Big Game” (Season 2, episode 14) where a killer who is a tech support worker, remotely activates computer web cams of his victims. Hmmm….why take chances? So I thought I would create a temporary cover for my webcam.

This is what I did:

  1. Got scissors, black electrical tape, & a piece of paper.
  2. Measured & cut a piece of black electrical tape wide enough to extend about .5cm or so either side of the built in webcam. Made sure it doesn’t interfere with any latches or other vital spots.
  3. Laid the tape on the table & flipped it so the stick side is up.
  4. Cut a piece of paper about the size of the web cam window.
  5. Put the paper in the middle of the black electrical tape on the sticky side. It looked like a bandaid.
  6. Held it up to my computer with the paper piece centred over my web cam window to see if I needed to trim the width.
  7. Trimmed the bottom so that it would not touch any screen—only the metal casing.
  8. Folded a small corner of the tape against itself so I could easily remove the shade when it was in place & stuck it over the webcam.
  9. I remove it when I close the laptop and just stick it to a clean section of the outside casing.

Now I peacefully enjoy my Macbook and my privacy-at least via my webcam & at home. Folks can still see me through my office windows—I leave the blinds up.

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