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Thread: Lawsuit: Lower Merion Spied On Student Through District-Provided Webcam

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Jan 2005

    Lawsuit: Lower Merion Spied On Student Through District-Provided Webcam

    Lawsuit: Lower Merion spied on student through district-provided webcam

    Thursday, February 18th, 2010

    The Lower Merion School District spied on a student in his home, using the webcam in his school-supplied laptop, a federal lawsuit alleges.

    The parents of Blake Robbins, a Harriton High student from Penn Valley, claimed the school never warned parents that the webcam in the Macintosh computer could be turned on remotely by school administrators. The laptops were issued to all Harriton students.

    Two Harriton students reached today said they were shocked to learn of the allegations. Both said they leave the laptop on in their room most of the time. They said it would have been running when they were changing clothes or returning from the shower. They said they intended to cover the camera's lens from now on.

    The suit says the parents only found out about the remotely activated webcam when an assistant principal told them last November about something their son had allegedly done inside their home, and then produced a photo taken by the computer built-in camera.

    In a statement, the district said the web cams are used only as a security feature, when a laptop is believed lost or stolen. On Thursday night, Superintendent Christopher W. McGinley posted a letter on its Web site explaining its use of the web cams. Following is an excerpt:

    Upon a report of a suspected lost, stolen or missing laptop, the feature was activated by the District's security and technology departments. The security feature's capabilities were limited to taking a still image of the operator and the operator's screen. This feature was only used for the narrow purpose of locating a lost, stolen or missing laptop. The District never activated the security feature for any other purpose or in any other manner whatsoever.

    As a result of our preliminary review of security procedures today, I directed the following actions:

    Immediate disabling of the security-tracking program.

    A thorough review of the existing policies for student laptop use.

    A review of security procedures to help safeguard the protection of privacy; including a review of the instances in which the security software was activated. We want to ensure that any affected students and families are made aware of the outcome of laptop recovery investigations.

    A review of any other technology areas in which the intersection of privacy and security may come into play.

    Apple began routinely putting webcams in its laptops in 2006. Every Macbook now has an integrated webcam. Webcams are stock equipment on most PC laptops as well.
    No One Knows Everything. Only Together May We Find The Truth JG

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Jan 2005
    Pa. school official defended in webcam spy case

    Associated Press Writer

    PHILADELPHIA (AP) -- A suburban Philadelphia school district accused of secretly switching on laptop computer webcams inside students' homes says it never used webcam images to monitor or discipline students and believes one of its administrators has been "unfairly portrayed and unjustly attacked."

    The Lower Merion School District, in response to a suit filed by a student, has acknowledged that webcams were remotely activated 42 times in the past 14 months, but only to find missing, lost or stolen laptops - which the district noted would include "a loaner computer that, against regulations, might be taken off campus."

    "Despite some reports to the contrary, be assured that the security-tracking software has been completely disabled," Superintendent Christopher W. McGinley said in a statement on the district's Web site late Friday. Officials vowed a comprehensive review that McGinley said should result in stronger privacy policies.

    Harriton High School student Blake Robbins and his parents, Michael and Holly Robbins, filed a federal civil rights lawsuit Tuesday against the district, its board of directors and McGinley. They accused the school of turning on the webcam in his computer while it was inside their Penn Valley home, which they allege violated wiretap laws and his right to privacy.

    The suit, which seeks class-action status, alleges that Harriton vice principal Lindy Matsko on Nov. 11 cited a laptop photo in telling Blake that the school thought he was engaging in improper behavior. He and his family have told reporters that an official mistook a piece of candy for a pill and thought he was selling drugs.

    Neither the family nor their attorney, Mark Haltzman, returned calls this week seeking comment. A listed number for Matsko could not be found.

    "We believe that the administrator at Harriton has been unfairly portrayed and unjustly attacked in connection with her attempts to be supportive of a student and his family," the statement on the Lower Merion School District site said. "The district never did and never would use such tactics as a basis for disciplinary action."

    A district spokesman declined further comment on the statement Saturday.

    Lower Merion, an affluent district in Philadelphia's suburbs, issues Apple laptops to all 2,300 students at its two high schools. Only two employees in the technology department, not administrators, were authorized to activate the cameras, which captured still images but not sound, officials said.

    "While certain rules for laptop use were spelled out ... there was no explicit notification that the laptop contained the security software," McGinley said. "This notice should have been given, and we regret that was not done."

    The district's Web site said 42 activations of the system resulted in the recovery of 18 computers, not 28 as district spokesman Doug Young had said earlier. They reiterated that it was done only to locate lost, stolen or missing laptops.

    "The district has not used the tracking feature or webcam for any other purpose or in any other manner whatsoever," the Web site said. The site also noted that there was nothing to prevent students from covering the webcam with tape.

    McGinley said the district had hired former federal prosecutor Henry Hockeimer Jr. to review past practices and suggest improvements.

    The FBI is looking into whether any federal wiretap or computer-intrusion laws were violated, according to an official who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to discuss the investigation. Montgomery County District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman has said she might also investigate.

    Andy Derrow, father of a Harriton junior, said he does not believe the district was spying on students. He said he has two other sons who graduated from the school and had substantially benefited from the computer program.

    "I don't think there was any ill intent here," he said "I think we all need to take a breath and wait and see what the facts are."
    No One Knows Everything. Only Together May We Find The Truth JG

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Jan 2005
    FBI launches probe into schools accused of spying on kids through webcams
    Vice-principal used cameras to confront student about drug use: claim

    By Daniel Tencer
    Monday, February 22nd, 2010 -- 12:57 pm

    The FBI has launched an investigation into a Pennsylvania school district that has been accused of spying on students through webcams on laptops it issued to those students.

    Lawyers for Harriton High School student Blake Robbins plan to ask a judge Monday to order the retention of all data on 2,300 laptops issued to students by the Lower Merion School District, near Philadelphia, the Associated Press reports.

    The Robbins family launched the lawsuit after an assistant principal confronted Robbins with evidence of "improper behavior in his home," and showed him a picture from inside the home, taken by the webcam.

    Robbins' lawyers say they need the data on the laptops to argue their case, but the data may also prove useful to an FBI investigation. CNN reports that the FBI is looking into the possibility the Lower Merion School District violated federal laws on wiretapping and computer intrusion by remotely activating webcams on student computers while the the computers were at home.

    The Montogmery County district attorney has said she is looking into the matter as well.

    When news of the lawsuit broke last week, the school district issued a statement arguing it only used the ability to remotely turn on the webcam to find lost or stolen laptops, and not to discipline students over behavior in their home.

    But that assertion contradicts what the Robbins family is saying. According to the Associated Press, the Robbins family says vice principal Lindy Matsko confronted Robbins about what he thought was the student's possible drug use. They say Matsko saw a candy through the webcam and mistook it for a pill.

    In another statement, the school board said it had activated the remote cameras 42 times during the 2009-2010 school year to search for missing laptops. It says it recovered 18 laptops this way. The school district has since said that it has stopped using the remote webcam feature.

    "I think what they're doing was absolutely terrible and scary," Blake told ABC's Good Morning America Monday. "They are invading my house. They might as well be sitting in my room watching me without my knowing."

    Internet privacy lawyer Parry Aftab told ABC that the school district may have crossed the line from education to policing.

    "Schools have very limited authority under the Constitution to deal with things that are off-premises after hours and have nothing to do with the school itself, so in this case I think the school was out of bounds, literally," she said. "Schools are schools, police are police, and they never should meet."

    Lower Merion School District spokesman Doug Young told CNN that all students who were issued a school laptop had to sign an agreement that allowed the school to use remote activation if the laptop was lost or stolen. But he admitted it was a "mistake" not to overtly tell parents and students that the school district had this ability.
    No One Knows Everything. Only Together May We Find The Truth JG

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