Pa. school district settles webcam spy lawsuits for $610K

Lower Merion will no longer use the tracking program.
Lower Merion will no longer use the tracking program.

A Philadelphia-area school district agreed Monday to pay $610,000 to settle two lawsuits over secret photos taken on school-issued laptops.

The Lower Merion School District admitted it captured thousands of webcam photographs and screen shots from student laptops in a misguided effort to locate missing computers.

Harriton High School student Blake Robbins, then 15, charged in an explosive civil-rights lawsuit filed in February that the district used its remote tracking technology to spy on him inside his home. Later evidence unearthed in the case showed that he was photographed 400 times in a two-week period, sometimes as he slept in his bedroom, according to his lawyer, Mark Haltzman.…Read More

Employee in webcam spying flap: Teen had no expectation of privacy

A school employee says a student had no expectation to privacy.
A Lower Merion School District employee says student Blake Robbins had no expectation of privacy because he broke the rules of the district's laptop initiative.

A school technology official at the center of a webcam spying scandal says the Pennsylvania student suing her employer should not have had any expectation of privacy, because he took a laptop home without authorization. The development comes as the district in question admits it secretly captured at least 56,000 photographs and screen shots from the web cameras of laptops it issued to high school students.

In a court filing April 20, Lower Merion School District technology coordinator Carol Cafiero said officials activated tracking software that photographed student Blake Robbins because he failed to pay a required insurance fee.

Cafiero, who is on paid leave while the district investigates the laptop controversy, claims that Robbins had no legitimate expectation of privacy because he broke the rules. She also denies claims by Robbins’ attorney that she might be a “voyeur.”…Read More

Experts: Schools can track laptops less intrusively

Webcam pictures may not be useful in tracking down culprits.
There are better ways to find lost or stolen laptops than webcam images, experts say.

School officials in Pennsylvania who admit remotely activating webcams to locate missing laptops could have used far less intrusive methods of finding the machines, such as GPS tracking or “call home” systems, technology and privacy experts say.

Instead, the Lower Merion School District finds itself defending a potential class-action lawsuit after a student complained of being photographed inside his home and accused of selling drugs.

The FBI also is investigating the school district for possible wiretap and computer-use violations.…Read More