Home > Uncategorized > How the valuable “team player” can help you destroy YOUR organization.

How the valuable “team player” can help you destroy YOUR organization.

February 26, 2010

You probably know the story by now: Pennsylvania school district gives laptops to kids, then uses the laptops to spy on them. And by “spying” I mean; “remotely take pictures through the built-in webcam in the students’ bedrooms”.  The students didn’t know about it, or know the reason why it was a violation of the “code of conduct” to disable the webcam.  Now the FBI is investigating.

These people are in big trouble.  They violated several very important laws (normally you have to be Dick Cheney to get away with such) that can land them in prison.  They exposed their school district to the mother of all class-action suits.  And they undermined every laptop loan program in the country, abusing and destroying trust.  It was a spectacularly dumb move, setting up and using the spy system.

Thing is; it wasn’t just one or two people.  You know how this works: a committee had to put out an RFP for the software system, and review competing systems.  Some pointy-haired boss had to approve the purchase. Unless their legal council is incompetent, they omitted asking him/her.  Technicians had to install the software and train school officials in its use.  School principals had access to the pictures and thought it would be a good idea to confront a student with one of them.  The kid was eating candy, which the principal mistook for “pills”, and called the kid into his office.  See!  Here’s the evidence, kid.  Of the school district committing a crime, that is.

There were so many exit ramps on the road between initial dumb idea, and pathetic national news story.  At any point someone could have said; “Go ask your lawyers. This is wrong, you know it’s wrong, and you’re not going to do it or I’m going to the parents and the press.”  And the pointy-haired bosses would have been angry but a quick consult with school district legal council would have revealed the objecting person as a valuable asset.  It would go something like this:

(School district attorney: “You surely weren’t going to actually DO this, were you?”)

Pot holes of stupidity are seldom this deep, but organizations take the dumb road all the time, and they’re set up to reward “team players” while punishing individuals who raise objections.  It’s true in politics, in religion, in education, and in business.  When the project is completed, everyone slaps everyone else on the back and it’s attaboys all around.  Status quo, stupidity, cupidity, mendacity and just plain bull-headedness wins the day.

It’s easy to think of dumb corporate decisions that became news: Enron, Ken Lay, or local stuff like the city arena that we were told would make a profit when everyone knew it wouldn’t (actual case).  Or the church camp that was caught burying several barrels of chlordane next to the lake to save the cost of proper disposal (another actual case).  In situations like that, who’s the most valuable team member: the “team player”?  Or the one who says; “If you’re going to be this stupid, count me out.”

I would love to hear some ideas for developing institutional baloney detectors, and turning the usual value equation around.

NOTES… see also:

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. February 26, 2010 at 09:17 | #1

    I read that the lame excuse of these bozos was that they wanted to be able to track computers down if they went missing. So, computer takes a picture of wherever it is (like in some room), and this school has the forensic team standing by to analyze the pic and call in the cavalry?

    They hardly needed to call lawyers, and, being a lawyer myself and knowing a lot of them, they probably would have done the “wink and nudge,” and their lawyers would have told them what they wanted to hear. Like the Bush administration’s “counsel.”

    I’m assuming the impetus behind this was to look at pictures of teenagers studying naked in their rooms.

  2. February 26, 2010 at 14:14 | #2

    The Federal govt and many state govt have just such a thing, though usually they are underfunded, inspector generals.  IGs jobs are to poke around and raise complaints when no one else is.  Business and Education institutions could benefit from this sort of thing, one who’s contract protected them from retribution or harassment. 

    Another option would be to open things up, push for radical transparency.  If this kind of thing had had any public hearing or notice it wouldn’t have made it out of the proposal meeting.

  3. February 26, 2010 at 16:31 | #4

    School districts are often independent political entities. I suspect most are too small to have inspectors general.

    Still, both the school’s legal counsel and the people responsible for integrating, installing, and maintaining the systems should have been aware of the law on this matter. It’s possible that the last few years of unrestricted surveillance at the federal level has confused younger computer people about such things, but hopefully examples like this will set them straight.

  4. Karen
    February 26, 2010 at 23:11 | #5

    I hope the school gets run through the legal wringer.  Nothing like losing an expensive case in court to get their attention.

  5. February 27, 2010 at 17:40 | #6

    Our school district has legal troubles for writing an employee letter for a teacher who was “asked to resign” for viewing porn on a school computer.
    There were other circumstances also, but he went on to a different school district. He’s now in prison.

    Thank You Karen for spelling wringer correctly :)

  6. February 27, 2010 at 18:40 | #7

    I have refrained from commenting because I just don’t know what to say.  This kind of thing, rather than the “Why we’re not gonna make it” scenario, is more the reason we wouldn’t “make it”.

    That a basic sense of ethics would be so shockingly absent is stunning beyond words.  It speaks to at least a full generation (more likely two or three) of failure to really discuss ethics and basic, non-sectarian morality, not to mention basic reasoning skills.

    But thank goodness it’s a Christian nation, with Christian forefathers and a Constitution based on Christianity.

    No connection, I’m sure.

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