Penn high school spied on student via webcam


— 11:12 AM on February 19, 2010

Keeping tabs on students' Facebook profiles is so last year. According to eWeek, Pennsylvania student Blake Robbins got a nasty surprise after taking home a school-issued laptop last year: his high school accused him of "improper behavior in his home," using images from the laptop's webcam as evidence.

Robbins' parents promptly filed a class-action lawsuit (PDF) on his behalf, alleging that the Lower Merion School District made no effort to seek authorization or even to notify parents of the monitoring scheme. A note from Superintendent Christopher McGinley included in the suit reads in part, "Thanks in part to State and Federal grants secured by our technology staff during the past few years, every high school student will have their own personal laptop-enabling an authentic mobile 21st Century learning environment."

Looking at the suit, invasion of privacy may only be part of the can of worms the school has opened:

As the laptops at issue were routinely used by students and family members while at home, it is believed and therefore averred 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.

The school, for its part, doesn't seem to be denying the charges. eWeek quotes the Superintendent as saying, "Laptops are a frequent target for theft in schools and off school property. . . . The security feature was installed to help locate a laptop in the event it was reported lost, missing or stolen so that the laptop could be returned to the student."

The Superintendent has nevertheless apologized for "any concern or inconvenience," and he claims the monitoring scheme has since been disabled—and will not be re-enabled without notification to students and their families.

   
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