I know this story has been out for a few weeks but, in light of Catholic Church abuse scandal this new revelation in the Lower Merion School School District Webcam-spying case is just creepy. Here’s the short version, Lower Merion School District, based in Ardmore, PA issued laptops to its students last fall. Seeing as how those things aren’t cheap, it must be a school district flush with cash. At any rate last November, an official at Harriton High School notified the parents of Blake Robbins that their son was involved in “improper behavior in his home.”
Ummm. How did the school know this?
The Robbins family says an assistant principal at Harriton High, Lindy Matsko, confirmed that the school district “in fact has the ability to remotely activate the Webcam contained in a student’s personal laptop computer issued by the school district at any time it chose, and to view and capture whatever images were in front of the Webcam.”
Well that’s just creepy and breaks more than a few constitutional rights and laws among them: the Fourth Amendment, the Electronic Communication Privacy Act, the Computer Fraud Abuse Act, the Stored Communications Act, Section 1983 of the Civil Rights Act, the Pennsylvania Wiretapping and Electronic Surveillance Act, and Pennsylvania common law.
So the Robbins family naturally lawyered up and the school district suddenly decided that the remote-activation Webcam system should be
deactivated, effective immediately. And stated that the feature was enabled only “to track lost, stolen, and missing laptops.” That was all well and good until we got to the trial.
Last week, lawyers for 15-year-old Blake Robbins and his family claimed that thousands of images were taken by the laptop Webcams. Included “pictures of Blake partially undressed and of Blake sleeping.” In addition, images of Web sites visited and snapshots of instant messages were also allegedly captured.
According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, lawyers claim that each time the software took Webcam shots, it sent them back to school district servers, where employees found entertainment in “a little LMSD soap opera.” Two school district employees were placed on administrative leave in March, after the allegations surfaced.
The Robbins’ family legal team claims that 400 pictures were taken of Blake Robbins alone in a period spanning some two weeks late last year. It specifically named Carol Cafiero, one of the employees placed on leave. The family reportedly suggested that Cafiero “may have been a voyeur” and, on the basis of e-mails the school district allegedly turned over to the Robbins family, the family has demanded to see Cafiero’s personal computer.