Chief Education Officer (CEO) Marcus Edward told St. Lucia News Online (SNO) recently that contact was made with an information technology specialist to determine whether it was true.
The CEO told this publication that the ministry has since been informed that the only software that comes with the laptops is Computrace. The anti-theft software, allows the owners/ distributors to track and secure devices, particularly those that are mobile and include laptops.
Edward said the batch of computers distributed is most likely not part of the same batch that was tested and was found to be carrying a malicious spyware. However, he said the ministry plans to investigate the matter in greater detail, but has so far ruled out those reports.
Local educator Virginia Albert- Poyotte had expressed concern over the issue after reports in the Caribbean media pointed to a radio organisation in Trinidad and Tobago having tested some of the devices used by students in their island and found that spyware was active.
The batch of laptop computers tested in the twin island republic was distributed during 2012 and 2014. The Government of St. Lucia had signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Government of Trinidad and Tobago to supply the island with several thousand of the same laptops.
The radio company – T&T Amateur Radio League – that found the spyware has since written the Trinidad and Tobago Unified Teachers Union, claiming that the students are being spied upon. This was also confirmed with Poyette, who told the local media here that the union is currently investigating the issue.
The company has advised the T&T teachers union to: test all computers to ensure no spying bugs were implanted, or recall all computers given out until they can be certified free of any spyware; a national education campaign be launched to educate both the recipients of the laptops and their parents; and that all computers that are to be given out must be checked and certified-free from any spying devices.
Poyotte has said that from information she received, the operation is a huge one that breaches confidentiality and allows full access to information to these laptops. She said it is a major concern and has since called on the government to investigate similar laptops that were distributed here.
The laptop initiative was introduced by the Dr. Kenny Anthony administration, where students entering fourth form are given free laptops to assist them with their school work and advance their knowledge in information technology. A total of 3,000 laptops are expected to be delivered here, through the MoU.
There are a number of spyware used by various organisations, not only to track the location of an equipment, but maliciously spy on people’s personal and confidential information. They have the ability to monitor keystrokes, scan files on hard drives, snoop applications, such as chat or word processors and the web browser. It can also steal bandwidth and memory from the users’ information.
This practice has been flagged unethical and malicious. Spyware has reached such epidemic proportions that legislators in the United States Congress as well as state legislatures are now responding to public outrage by drafting bills to prohibit its distribution, stem abusive practices and protect internet user privacy.