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Laptop-tracking company can be sued for spying on sex chats

A judge rules that Absolute Software, a company that tracks down stolen computers, can be sued for intercepting sexually-explicit images and chat from an allegedly stolen laptop.

It's a tenet of modern existence that if you are online (and even if you're not) someone might be watching. Is there a limit, though, in what they're allowed to see?

I mention this existential conundrum because of a case in Ohio, which has seen a judge decide that it might not be alright for a laptop-tracking company to espy some of the more intimate parts of your life and body--even if they are being displayed on a stolen laptop.

A Wired report suggests that Absolute Software was quite wired in to where an allegedly stolen laptop might be. However, it might not have been within its rights to capture intimately revealing images of schoolteacher Susan Clements-Jeffrey, who was in possession of the laptop at the time.

Clements-Jeffrey says she bought the laptop from one of her students in 2008. However, it actually belonged to the Clark County Schools District in Ohio. It had allegedly been stolen by a student, then sold to another student, before again being sold (for $60) to Clements-Jeffrey.

Screenshot: Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

The school district hired Absolute Software, whose range of fine services included LoJack--motto: "We get stolen laptops back."

U.S. District Judge Walter Rice, though, opined that it was important exactly how LoJack gets stolen laptops back.

"It is one thing to cause a stolen computer to report its IP address or its geographical location in an effort to track it down. It is something entirely different to violate federal wiretapping laws by intercepting the electronic communications of the person using the stolen laptop," his decision reads.

The accusation here is that Absolute didn't merely report the IP address to the police. It also allegedly got its eyes on e-mail and other chats between Clements-Jeffrey, 52, and a paramour. You will shiver as on a cold day in Calgary to hear that some of these interceptions allegedly included nude pictures of Clements-Jeffrey.

In its defense, Absolute declared that Clements-Jeffrey should have known that any laptop bought for $60 must have been stolen.

In his ruling, the judge decided that Absolute might employ fine and upstanding people, but that "a reasonable jury could find that they crossed an impermissible boundary."

This case may remind some of the Philadelphia school district which last year was accused of Webcam spying on one of its 15-year-old students while he was in his bedroom. The case concluded late last year with a payment being made of $610,000.

In the Absolute case, there might be many wondering whether it was absolutely necessary to intercept e-mail and obtain intimate photographs. There may soon be a jury who will be wondering about that too.