British Columbia

Nude webcam photos lead to cross-border lawsuit

A U.S. judge clears the way for an Ohio woman to sue a Vancouver-based software company after naked video-chat photos of her were snapped without her permission.

Vancouver company accused of invading schoolteacher's privacy

A U.S. judge has cleared the way for an Ohio woman to sue a Vancouver-based software company after naked video-chat photos of her were snapped without her permission.

According to court documents, the woman, Susan Clements-Jeffrey, is a Springfield-based substitute schoolteacher who says that in 2008 she purchased a used laptop for $60 from one of her students, who told her he had a new computer and didn't need it anymore.

At the time, Clements-Jeffrey, a widow in her 50s, had renewed a high school romance with a man living in Boston, Carlton "Butch" Smith, and the pair were sending sexually explicit webcam photos to each other.

The laptop, however, had originally been purchased by Ohio's Clark County School District, which had installed Vancouver-based Absolute Software's LoJack for Laptops theft-recovery software on it.

Clements-Jeffrey became aware that explicit photos of her from the web chat were snapped by Absolute's theft recovery unit when police showed them to her.

Warning to employees

Richard Rosenberg, a retired UBC computer science professor and president of the B.C. Freedom of Information and Privacy Association, said that in cases of laptop theft and recovery, using a webcam to spy on someone is going too far.

"To keep track of the woman, to look at her…seems irrelevant to the primary responsibility," he said.

Software tracking and snooping should stop at the point of providing police an address and offender name, he said.

Rosenberg said the case in Ohio also highlights the need for people to know what kind of software is on their computer — a situation that should resonate with anyone assigned a company laptop.

Rosenberg said an employee should know what software his or her employer has installed on the computer.

"You should be informed as the user what kind of software's on there that you haven't put in, but that's put in by the manufacturer or by the purchaser or by the store," he said.

"Otherwise, it's possible for you to have a computer in your own home and [without knowing it] you could be monitored."

Lawsuit claims invasion of privacy

In April of 2008, a Clark County School District employee armed with a copy of a police report detailing the theft of the laptop authorized Absolute Software to initiate the theft-recovery service.

The next time the laptop was online, it would be activated to reveal its IP address to Absolute. Absolute's theft recovery officers would also be able to gain remote access to the laptop, take screen shots of it and intercept communications sent to and from it.

In June of 2008, an employee at Absolute was able to locate the computer's IP address and began capturing information from the network stream to hand over to police.

Part of the package that was sent to authorities in Springfield included three snapshots of Clements-Jeffrey, taken during a webcam sex-chat with Smith.

Police had printouts of the images when they arrived on Clements-Jeffrey's doorstep, and allegedly waved the photos in her face several times before and after arresting her for possession of stolen property.

Clements-Jeffrey and Smith filed a lawsuit in March of 2009 against the police officers, the City of Springfield, and also against the software company.

The suit names and accuses Kyle Magnus, Absolute's theft recovery officer assigned to the case, of intentionally invading the couple's privacy.

None of the allegations have been proven in court.

Absolute's motion for summary judgment, which would have ended the lawsuit, was dismissed by Judge Walter Herbert Rice on August 22. The lawsuit will continue in U.S. District Court.

Absolute Software refused comment.

With files from the CBC's Jason Proctor