School Spying Case: School Accused of Taking Thousands of Webcam Photos

By Andrew Moseman | April 19, 2010 9:28 am

MacBook_Pro_17It’s been two months since we last heard from the court case engulfing Lower Merion School District in Pennsylvania, but the circumstances there keep getting stranger.

Back in February, the family of sophomore Blake Robbins filed suit against the school, charging that administrators had remotely accessed the webcams on Apple laptops loaned out to students to take pictures of students in their homes. Now, after two months of investigation, the family’s lawyers have expanded the case by claiming the school actually took thousands of photos. Some of the images included pictures of youths at home, in bed or even “partially dressed,” according to a Thursday filing in the case [Wired.com].

School board president David Ebby called the motion “a vehicle to attack the District,” but he also acknowledged “mistakes and misguided actions that have led us to this situation.” Ebby conceded that the school-issued laptops had taken a “substantial number of webcam photos,” and said it had proposed to Judge DuBois that families of students who appear in those photographs be notified and given the chance to view the images [Computer World]. To that end, DuBois on Wednesday ordered people involved in the case to stop any further dissemination of the photos or screen shots until the parents whose children had been photographed are notified. Ebby promised to begin the process shortly.

In the Robbins’ newest motion, their attorney Mark Haltzman took aim in particular at Carol Cafiero, the school district’s technology coordinator, calling her a possible “voyeur” and asking for access to her personal computers to hunt for further evidence. To support the charge, he cited her response to an e-mail from a colleague who said viewing the webcam pictures was like watching “a little LMSD soap opera.” “I know, I love it!” Cafiero allegedly replied [PC World]. Cafiero’s representatives maintain that she  turned on the remote access to student laptops only when ordered by school administrators. However, Haltzman says that Cafiero invoked the Fifth Amendment in response to every question in her deposition.

The Lower Merion saga started when school administrators tried to discipline Blake Robbins on accusations of undisclosed bad behavior. That “behavior” turned out to be pill popping. The family said their son was eating Mike and Ike candy [Wired.com]. A few days later the school admitted to activating the webcams 42 times, but only in response to possibly lost or stolen computers. This new motion alleges that the school’s secret surveillance went far beyond that.

Related Content:
80beats: Lawsuit: Webcams in School-Issued Laptops Used to Spy on Students at Home
80beats: School Spying Update: District Used Webcams 42 Times; FBI on the Case

Image: Wikimedia Commons / Andrew Plumb

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Technology
  • JD

    This case gets progressiviely creepier the more that comes to light. I hope the tech people and leadership who implemented this spying (and the principal who tried to have the boy suspended) are all fired and fined heavily to make an example.

    Also, I have a laptop issued by my job that I have to carry everyday. It has a built in cam too, so my solution is to just cover the cam lens with paper. I taped a piece over it and now they can take all the pictures they want.

  • Brian

    Don’t forget about the mic. They can eavesdrop too.

  • MensaJeff

    I’m serious, dammit. Don’t forget the mic.

  • Mike

    Update: There are up to 50,000 photo’s and 400 just of the kid bringing the lawsuit including one’s of him sleeping.

    These people are toast

  • anicca

    One suspects that “homeland security” also does this and more – it is not limited to school districts or businesses. The lofty principles of democracy: we can spy on people, so we do.

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