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School tool eyes students' Web habits

Software developer LanSchool unveils a monitoring system that captures thumbnail screenshots of students' computers and displays them on the teacher's screen.

    Software developer LanSchool on Tuesday unveiled a monitoring system that captures thumbnail screenshots of students' computers and displays them on the teacher's screen, allowing instructors to keep an eye on their pupils' Web habits.

    LanSchool Monitor works somewhat like a security camera system, the company said, letting teachers and librarians track students' Web habits instead of installing restrictive filters. Teachers can see up to 144 thumbnails on their computer at one time.

    The Orem, Utah-based company is touting the technology as an alternative or addition to filters, which have come under fire from federal judges, librarians and civil libertarians for both over- and under-blocking. Students are notified when they log on that they're being monitored.

    "It allows librarians to trust students, but verify what they are doing," LanSchool CEO Dana Doggett said. "The best type of filter is self-control."

    The debate over using technological measures to protect children from inappropriate material has been a divisive one, pitting free-speech advocates against people who want to protect children from porn, violence and hate sites. Already, a special panel of federal judges has struck down a law that would have required libraries to filter or lose federal funds, saying filters block both too little and too much. The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to hear the case. However, the ruling didn't cover public schools, which still risk having to relinquish federal funds if they don't comply.

    New technology that makes it easier to track students has also raised questions about how much privacy minors can expect while surfing the Net. Some civil liberties groups are waging a battle against using technology to control students' Web practices.

    For years, LanSchool has offered a system for computer training labs that allows instructors to send a screen to students' computers, offer remote assistance or lock a keyboard. Doggett said the company decided to sell the monitoring feature separately after hearing from teachers and librarians who were buying the product for its tracking capabilities.

    He said LanSchool is targeting the product to schools because part of a teacher's job is to watch and monitor students. He said he'd be less comfortable with companies using it to monitor adults. "We really don't want to be a snooping tool," he said.