PA School Found Guilty of Spying on Students Via Laptop Web Cam

A Philadelphia school district has been found guilty for using school-issued laptops for spying on students inside their own homes. The laptops would capture all activity within the home with their built-in web cams and send footage back to the school, without the consent or knowledge of the students or parents.

This spying scheme was first brought to public attention when the Lower Merion High School’s vice principle contacted Blake Robbins, then 15, and told him that they have a laptop photo of him engaging in improper behavior. Turns out the administrators thought Robbins was doing drugs when in reality he was eating candy.

Outraged that the school was invading his privacy in his own home after school hours, the Robbins family took the case to court and to the media. After further investigation, it was discovered that the school took about 400 snapshots of the 15-year old boy in about a two week period, including photos of him in his bedroom when he was sleeping.

This “tracking” program was first created to track stolen and missing laptops, but according to the district’s review, the laptop was sometimes left activated for months after the laptops were located, snapping at least 56,000 photos of students without their consent. But in Robbins’ case, he never reported the laptop missing in the first place so the school had even less right to activate the spying program.

In the end, the court had called for the school district to pay Robbins $175,000 for invasion of his privacy, and $10,000 to a second student who also filed suit. Their lawyer, Mark Haltzman, will get $425,000 for his work on the case.

“Although we would have valued the opportunity to finally share an important, untold story in the courtroom, we recognize that in this case, a lengthy, costly trial would benefit no one,” school board President David Ebby said in a statement late Monday. “It would have been an unfair distraction for our students and staff and it would have cost taxpayers additional dollars that are better devoted to education.”

After the case, the school stopped using this program on its laptops, however, it school administrators were never charged with criminal wiretapping. It was deemed that charging the school would really just end up hurting the students in the long run.

(Via Chicago Tribune)

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