An Ohio teacher recently sued a computer tracking company for sex spying. In this case, as described in the article and summarized below, the Ohio substitute teacher, Susan Clements-Jeffrey, had a webcam chat of a sexual nature with her boyfriend. This was at her home, in private. Little did she know, her laptop was actually stolen property being aggressively monitored by Absolute Software, a private company that specializes in tracking stolen computers.
The computer was actually property of Ohio's Clark County School District, which uses Absolute Software to install hidden tracking software on all of its machines. This assists in recovery in the case of theft. As noted in the referenced article, "Absolute's software, known as LoJack for laptops, gives the company total remote access to the computer's data, which it records. LoJack is a highly-rated security service — and an entirely legal one — but in this case, Absolute is under fire for potentially violating the Electronic Communications Privacy Act and the Stored Communications Act, which details guidelines for virtual privacy." The issue is that Absolute's theft officer recorded Clements-Jeffrey's keystrokes and snapped three sexually explicit screenshots, and passed these along to the Springfield, Ohio police department. Clements-Jeffrey and her partner are currently suing Absolute, Magnus, the city of Springfield, and two police officers for violating their Fourth Amendment rights.
This is certainly an alarming story--one that does not reflect well on the private security industry. However, as with all news--good or bad--about a profession, much can be learned by unpacking the story's lessons. In this case, it should lead individuals to consider the following two things:
- Consider contracting with smaller companies. Small investigative and security firms can do many of the things that Absolute does. Need your computers monitored or stronger internet security? A professional, private investigator can do this for you. In many cases, the smaller company subcontracts with companies that offer global property tracking services. So the service coverage is the same. However, with a smaller company you get higher quality, safer, and monitoring free of legal error. Though you may not get the same cost advantage as going with a larger firm, you do get the benefit of a more personalized service. Smaller companies often only employ a few investigators, who are micromanaged. Direct supervision of employees or the actual work of a licensed, bonded, and experienced investigator (who is required to know laws and take continuing education) mitigates the possible poor judgment of lower-paid or low-skilled agents. In the end, piece of mind is worth the extra expense up front. In the case that it leads to a lawsuit, the minor additional costs of contracting with a small company will far exceed the costs of errors caused by larger firms.
- Hire an investigator to check sellers, buyers, and products. Sometimes, a good deal is not too good to be true. However, if you are suspicious that one is (e.g., a $60 laptop) then spend an extra $100 to check the deal out. A private investigations company can do a background check on the equipment, check it for spyware, do a background check on the seller (or buyer) and so on. Obviously, for more expensive items, or when selling online, you definitely want to consider hiring a private investigator to facilitate and guide the process.