Webcam spying case alleges violations of students’ privacy, civil rights

Legal News for Pennsylvania Social Responsibility Attorneys. A lawsuit was filed against the Lower Merion School District in regards to privacy-invading laptops.

Social responsibility attorney alerts- Lower Merion School District faces federal lawsuit.

Rosemont, PA—A federal lawsuit filed against the Lower Marion School District (LMSD) contends school-issued laptop computers were used to spy on a Harriton High School student. With anti-theft software programmed into the computers, school district officials can allegedly trigger the built-in camera to take photos of the person utilizing the laptop. The security system was reportedly installed as a means of tracking “lost, stolen, and missing laptops”, though students and parents were never informed that the district had the ability to activate the laptop cameras at any given point, according to information provided by the Philadelphia Inquirer.

The lawsuit, filed on Tuesday, February 16, 2010, in U.S. District Court, deals with allegations of invaded privacy as well as violations of students’ civil rights. A young teen, identified as Blake Robbins, 15, was allegedly called down to the assistant principal’s office on November 11, 2009, where he was then subsequently accused of “improper behavior” in his home, based on a photo acquired by the school through anti-theft software in the students’ laptops. The photo, which showed Robbins holding Mike & Ikes candy in his hands, somehow managed to convince the assistant principal that the gesture was drug-related. As a result, the teen’s parents, Michael E. and Holly S. Robbins, filed the lawsuit.

In response to allegations, the district allegedly stated, “Upon a report of a suspected lost, stolen, or missing laptop, the feature was activated by the District’s security and technology departments. The tracking-security feature was limited to taking a still image of the operator and the operator’s screen. 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.”

Though the suit also argues that federal and state wiretapping laws were violated, video and still images are not subject to the law. On the other hand, the school district also allegedly violated the computer intrusion law, which prohibits “unauthorized access to a computer with the intent to defraud, cause harm, or invade privacy”. The case was to begin its trial on Monday, February 22, 2010.

Legal News Reporter: Sandra Quinlan- Legal News for Pennsylvania Social Responsibility Lawyers.

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