Russian website broadcast live pictures of Cape Breton schoolchildren
Unsecured web cameras in a Cape Breton school have broadcast hundreds of thousands of detailed pictures of students to the internet in recent years.
The cameras were only made secure this week, after CBC News alerted the primary to Grade 12 school and the local school board.
One of the Panasonic HD security cameras was positioned across the hall from a boys washroom at the Rankin School of the Narrows in Iona, N.S. The interior of the washroom, which is doorless but accessible through a curved entrance, was not visible.
The school serves 135 children aged five to 18.
Faces of students and staff were clearly visible in the images, said Lewis MacDonald, who co-ordinates facilities management for the Cape Breton-Victoria Regional School Board.
A tipster sent CBC Nova Scotia Investigates a link to the cameras from the Russian-registered website insecam.org, which displays links to thousands of web security cameras around the world.
That link allowed CBC News to view several other unsecured cameras at the school, which were broadcasting images of exterior areas including playgrounds, the front door and school bus pickup areas.
The cameras took a digital still image every five seconds, which included a time and date stamp, and the words “change password.”
Using Panasonic’s iPhone app, it is possible to take control of the cameras and move them remotely.
Camera access secured
CBC News told the Cape Breton-Victoria School Board about the cameras Wednesday morning.
The board quickly secured access to the cameras with passwords.
MacDonald said a letter was also sent home with students Wednesday afternoon.
“An investigation is ongoing into the specific incident at Rankin, and remediation actions are ongoing in other schools,” he said.
Meant to prevent vandalism
MacDonald said the board has hundreds of security cameras in its schools, but he believes this is an isolated incident.
The cameras are meant to prevent vandalism and to ensure no one is in or around the school after hours. Most cameras are accessible to staff at a central office in Sydney, said MacDonald.
The cameras at Rankin were installed less than two years ago.
Risk to everyone’s privacy
A privacy lawyer in Ottawa said the widespread proliferation of security cameras is a risk to everyone’s privacy.
“Video cameras are becoming better and better in terms of their ability to pick up detail, and the fact that they’re cheaper and cheaper makes them tools that people just want to automatically install everywhere,” said Kris Klein of the law firm nNovation.
Klein wondered if the school board had performed a privacy impact assessment before installing hundreds of cameras in its schools.
It had not. But MacDonald said there are policies in place for school security and photography of students in schools.
Klein said the breach of staff and students’ privacy is amplified by the link on insecam.org.
“You don’t know who was looking at them,” Klein said. “It’s not to say that they were necessarily doing anything wrong, it’s just the fact that they had their own personal image broadcast and made available to the public at large via these shady characters.”
The registrants of insecam.org are hidden by a third-party privacy service in Australia.
Insecam.org did not immediately respond to an email from CBC News requesting comment.