When news broke that a Pennsylvania school district was using laptop computers to spy on students in their own homes, I did what seemed the only logical thing to do: I panicked. In a world where airports can view detailed images of passengers' naked bodies in the name of security, I confess I often wonder how long it will be until I find myself sitting in Room 101, tracing patterns in the dust and idly scrawling 2+2=5.

Initially intended as an anti-theft device, the laptops that Lower Merion school district was giving to high school students contained the capability to snap a picture, remotely, should the laptop ever be stolen. School officials reported their ability to recover missing computers in a meeting with school board members, but they didn't specify how.

Unresolved questions about the laptop scandal, dubbed "Webcamgate," prompted Senator Arlen Specter (D-PA) to hold a special hearing to investigate the topic of students and remote-tracking software. When the school decided to hand out laptops with anti-theft software installed, "it had no intention of dragging Congress into a national debate about wiretapping laws and webcams," Ars Technica's Nate Anderson wrote, "but that's exactly what it got."

InfoWorld's Robert X. Cringely notes that, even when the laptop scare is resolved, it will not be the end of the story: "The unintended consequences of technology can come back and bite you." The real issue is not whether laptops were used to spy on students; it's that they could have been used to do so. The technology was readily available, so that all the school, or any other nefarious user, had to do was switch it on.

The "new frontier" of technology is in the news so often it's nearly clichfamp;copy;. We know that everything ...

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