We’ve all heard the cool stories about how people are able to recovertheir stolen electronics using various tracking services. But onegadget-tracking service may have gone too far–a U.S. District Judgehas ruled against Absolute Software for capturing sexually explicitimages of a woman using a “stolen” laptop.
According to Wired, U.S. District Judge Walter Rice has ruled against Absolute Software, who claims thatone of its agents did nothing wrong when he used the gadget-trackingsoftware to take screenshots of sexually explicit images of SusanClements-Jeffrey. Judge Rice believes the agent may have gone too far,potentially violating the Clements-Jeffrey’s privacy.
“It is one thing to cause a stolen computer to report its IP address orits geographical location in an effort to track it down,” Rice wrote inhis decision. “It is something entirely different to violate federalwiretapping laws by intercepting the electronic communications of theperson using the stolen laptop.”
Now, you might say that someone who steals a laptop in the first placegives up his or her right to privacy. However, Clements-Jeffrey, a52-year-old substitute teacher in Ohio, did not steal thelaptop–rather, she purchased it from one of her students, whopurchased it from another student.
The story is long, but here’s the quick summary: the laptop originallybelonged to the Clark County School District of Ohio. The machine wasstolen by a student in April 2008, and then purchased by anotherstudent for $40. The second student turned around and sold the laptopto Clements-Jeffrey for $60, claiming that his aunt and uncle had givenhim the laptop.
Clements-Jeffrey thus believed she’d purchased a legally-obtainedlaptop.
Anyway, the Clark County School District had installed Absolute’s theft recovery service, includingLoJack, on the laptop. The school district reported the laptop stolen,and Absolute began collecting IP info whenever Clements-Jeffrey loggedon.
Absolute should have turned over the IP address to the police, and thensubpoenaed Clements-Jeffrey’s Internet Service Provider to get her nameand address. But instead, Absolute theft officer Kyle Magnus went onestep further–he accessed the laptop remotely, and interceptedClements-Jeffrey’s personal communications, including hercommunications with her boyfriend. Magnus even went so far as to grabscreenshots of Clements-Jeffrey sexily naked in front of the webcam.According to court documents, Magnus also recorded her keystrokes andmonitored her web surfing.
At least Magnus did the right thing with all of this info–he sent theinfo, pictures, and recorded conversations to the police. The policethen arrested Clements-Jeffrey for receiving stolen property, but thecharges were dismissed just a week later.
So now Clements-Jeffrey, along with her boyfriend, are suing AbsoluteSoftware, Kyle Magnus, the city of Springfield, Ohio, and two policeofficers. The defendants maintain that Clements-Jeffrey should haveknown the laptop was stolen property, based on the cheap price and thefact that the serial number had been scraped off of the machine, andtherefore had no reasonable expectation of privacy.
The judge, on the other hand, says that “a reasonable jury could findthat [Absolute Software] crossed and impermissible boundary.”