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School officials accused of spying on students via webcam

Written by Rich Fiscus (Google+) @ 19 Feb 2010 7:20 User comments (13)

School officials accused of spying on students via webcam According to a lawsuit filed recently in US District Court, administrators at Lower Merion School District in Rosemont, PA used the webcam on a school issued laptop to illegally spy on a student. School officials are accused of violating federal wiretapping laws, as well as the student's civil rights.
The laptop is one of more than 2,000 issued to district high school students in order to give them access to school resources at all times. Each of the laptops is equipped with remote access software for locating the computers and secretly activating the onboard webcam in case they're stolen.

But that's not all it was used for according to the parents of Blake Robbins. They say their son was disciplined late last year for "improper behavior" based on a picture taken secretly by someone at the school who was monitoring him remotely.

Rather than admitting improper activities of their own, the school district appears to be going into full denial mode.

They posted a statement on their website stating "This feature has only been used for the limited purpose of locating a lost, stolen or missing laptop. The District has not used the tracking feature or web cam for any other purpose or in any other manner whatsoever."

If that's the case, the obvious question is how the Assistant Principal at Robbins' school got a picture from his webcam, when the laptop apparently hadn't been reported stolen.

Any decision reached in this case could have far reaching implications considering the growing number of schools providing laptops to their students. These programs are very important, especially for poorer students who don't normally have the access to technology required for learning essential skills to succeed both in school, and later in the job market.

Giving students good reason not to use computers is counterproductive to say the least.

The school district's announcement said "The District is dedicated to protecting and promoting student privacy. The laptops do contain a security feature intended to track lost, stolen and missing laptops. This feature has been deactivated effective today."

It also indicated the district would not reactivate it without first notifying all students and families in writing.

That's not likely to be a consolation for students who no doubt feel personally violated, and will almost certainly not be using their laptops' webcams in the future, even for legitimate school activities.

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13 user comments

119.2.2010 9:17

A nickel's worth of electrical tape oughtta fix that right up. Still, BAD school administrators!!!

219.2.2010 9:37

what the...

i knew there was a reason i always hated administrators;
of all the low down thing!

319.2.2010 10:21

Originally posted by ViRaL1:
A nickel's worth of electrical tape oughtta fix that right up. Still, BAD school administrators!!!

From what I've read that's exactly what a lot of students have done.

419.2.2010 10:51

No-one but the School Administrators know how much was observed of students in their homes, while the computer was on and being monitored. What was the student doing IN HIS OWN HOME that caused him to be disciplined at school, after he was observed by Spying. Talk about invasion of privacy. Hope these administrators who were involved, feel the disgust of the parents, and that whatever they decide to do, class action, they are successful.

519.2.2010 11:23

I would also point out that while it's easy to just point the finger at whoever was responsible for actually spying on this student (and no doubt many others), ultimately this was only possible thanks to the poor decision made to give them access to the tool. You'd have to have your head in the sand (or up your backside) not to realize someone would eventually abuse it. Regardless of whether it was a rogue individual or systemic practice, whoever decided to give out access to the system without the serious oversight it demands should at least share responsibility. If they didn't know it would happen, they should have.

Rich Fiscus
@Vurbal on Twitter
AfterDawn Staff Writer

619.2.2010 12:31

Originally posted by :

About the best thing to do, use tape.

Besides, these administrators did these students a favor.
Big Brother is watching you NOW in real life. Radar cameras, cameras at work to spy on inefficient workers or employees management need to fire, GPS installed in company cars to track workers EVERY move. Oh, BTW, what do you think GM can do with OnStar information. Some cities have "traffic" cameras which are also used to keep the peace in city centers.

These are all LEGAL methods of spying on you today. What the administrators are doing is teaching these kids what to expect. If you are sitting in front of a camera, chances are, Big Brother's watching.

719.2.2010 12:37

ok lets look at what is happining there has to be a good reason that they are protecting their investment of school property.. first lets all agree that its school property and not something bought by a student so tracking where it is isnt the issue... ok lets next ask why the cam did they suspect they could capture an image of a stolen units new owner? and then hand that to the police? third if the soft ware has ip adressing on it then it wont work outside their network ... but if the are tracking using the mac address then they can find it world wide as long as its on... now to the issue of turning the cam on after school well someone on the school board would have to authorise it and a law officail should be their just in case they catch someone or see something that would be considered child porn if they snap a pic then they are on for whats in the pic... and they should be arrested... but if the cops snap the pic its part of an ivestagation . now as a school department all parents should have to sign an agreement that they are on for the unit should it come up missing and or damaged thus they dont need to track it, they just sent the parents a bill for it.. turning on a cam is voyorisum and who ever did it should be run out of town as a peeping tom(sorry to all the tom's out there)(well maybe not all of them)so wiretaping isnt the right charge child porn might be... parents of teens with laptops should never let a computer be turned on in a bedroom and all should learn to monitor what they do on them and educate their kids as soon as posible

819.2.2010 21:36

gee, you think they would have at least picked the edited by ddp girl at the school to spy on... What edited by ddp losers....

This message has been edited since its posting. Latest edit was made on 19 Feb 2010 @ 22:55

919.2.2010 21:40

hahaha.. I don't understand the thinking behind any of this.. it's plain spying and voyeurism.. and illegal.

First thing anybody does with a stolen laptop is wipe it.. unless they are after the data off it, in which case they pull the hdd and shove it on a different system.

1022.2.2010 8:39

The FBI are interested, and are looking into this situation.


1122.2.2010 18:03

The real question is was the laptop reported lost / stolen during the period of time the cam was activated? If not, then the administrators should just shut up and take the punishment. If this is not the case and those were the only circumstances under which the cam was supposed to be remotely activated (which is supposedly what was agreed to by the students signing out the laptops), then they have no leg on which to stand.

1225.2.2010 6:00

From news reports, the person using the computer was eating some sweets (candy) they have a liking for, the administrator thought they were drugs, and it all came out how monitoring was being done.


1327.2.2010 22:57

The real question though, is how the officials could be so *ing stupid that they didn't thing this would blow up when they provided the evidence of their huge invasion of privacy! I am kind of surprised actually that after receiving a laptop from a 3rd party, the webcam wasn't covered. Also, nobody noticed what had to be quite a hike in upload traffic? If the webcams were half decent quality, it would take a pretty fair amount of bandwidth to upload from the laptop. The students were probably not too observant but the school was pretty *ing stupid to do that. That's almost the exact same thing as sneaking into someone's house, taking picture of them doing something illegal, then confronting them with the pictures. The only difference is that the photos were illegally taken through the webcam and not with a physically present person. There's a reason evidence obtained such ways are thrown out of court.

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