Did you hear about the lawsuit filed against Lower Merion School District? In the case of Blake J. Robbins v. Lower Merion School District, the suit claims that laptops were issued to Harriton High School students with webcams that can be covertly activated by the schools’ administrators. The suit claims that the administrators were able to use this webcam feature to spy on students and even their families.
The issue came to light when the Robbin’s child was disciplined for “improper behavior in his home” and Harriton High School Vice Principal used a photo taken by the webcam as evidence. The suit is a class action, brought on behalf of all students issued with these specific webcam equipped laptops.
The Lower Merion School District officials gave all their 1,800 high-schoolers laptop computers to guarantee they would have access to school-based resources. The lawsuit brought by the student and his parents, Michael and Holly Robbins, claims Lindy Matsko, an assistant principal at Harriton High School, spied on the student at home by remotely activating the webcam on his laptop.
The suit alleges that Matsko informed the boy that he was engaged in inappropriate behavior in his home, and cited as evidence a photograph from the webcam embedded in his laptop. The student told his parents about the incident, the suit claims, and the boy’s father confronted Matsko. The suit claims Matsko acknowledged the school could start the webcam and take pictures whenever it wanted to. The lawsuit charges that, “Many of the images captured and intercepted may consist of images of minors and their parents or friends in compromising or embarrassing positions, including, but not limited to, in various stages of dress or undress.”
If these allegations are true, how creepy is this for the students and their families? Think about it . . . I’m sure that a number of these kids have their laptops in their bedrooms where they may be getting dressed, or how about if the laptop is located in an area where there are private discussions with the students families. It is one thing if a school district has the ability to monitor emails or mark inappropriate website visits but to use these computers as ‘bugs’ is horrifying.
Schools all over this country are worried about kids divulging too much personal information online, concerned about pedophiles, embarrassing uploads of photos, etc. that may affect college acceptances or future job opportunities. Kids are taught by parents and school administrators to threat their personal details as though they were precious. And now we have this revelation in nearby Lower Merion School District?
It is my understanding that Lower Merion School District has admitted that the laptops were shipped with software for covertly activating their webcams, but is denying wrongdoing. Late today, the Associated Press is reporting that the FBI is now involved in the case. The FBI is investigating the Lower Merion School District over allegations that a high school in the school district spied on students through their laptop webcams. The official, speaking to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity, says the FBI will explore whether Lower Merion School District officials broke any federal wiretap or computer-intrusion laws.
Lower Merion officials say they remotely activated webcams 42 times to find missing student laptops in the past 14 months, but never did so to spy on students, as the Blake J. Robbins v. Lower Merion School District lawsuit claims.
What is Tredyffrin Easttown School District’s policy on computer usage outside of school hours? Does the school district have a similar laptop program to Lower Merion? I don’t think our school district assigns laptops to individual students, correct? Are any of the district’s laptops permitted to leave the schools?