High-school disciplinarian denies Webcam spying

Lynn Matsko, the assistant principal accused of informing a student that his picture was taken at home via school-issued laptop Webcam, adamantly denies authorizing use of remote-activation software.

Lynn Matsko, an assistant principal at Harriton High School, vehemently denies authorizing the remote activation of a MacBook Webcam to spy on a student. Robert Vassallo/KYW Newsradio Philadelphia

Responding to what she called "many false allegations reported about me in the media," Harriton High School Assistant Principal Lynn Matsko gave an emotional response on Wednesday morning to allegations that she played any role in the alleged remote activation of a student's school-issued laptop Webcam to spy on the student at home.

In a class action complaint (PDF) filed in federal court, 15-year-old Harriton High School student Blake Robbins and his parents alleged that Matsko "informed minor plaintiff that the school district was of the belief that minor plaintiff was engaged in improper behavior in his home and cited as evidence a photograph from the Webcam embedded in minor plaintiff's personal laptop issued by the school district."

The district used a remote-management product called LANrev, which enabled staff members to activate Webcams built into MacBook laptops issued to all Lower Merion School District high-school students. According to the district, the Webcams would be remotely activated only "upon a report of a suspected lost, stolen, or missing laptop" by the district's security and technology departments. It said it had done so 42 times .

The publisher of LANrev was acquired last year by Absolute Software, which is now marketing a different program for theft recovery that requires a police report before Absolute staff (not its customers) can initiate recovery efforts.

Emotion in her voice
With anger apparent in her voice, Matsko read a statement in which she said "at no point in time did I have the ability to access any Webcam through security-tracking software. At no time have I ever monitored a student via a laptop Webcam, nor have I ever authorized the monitoring of a student via security-tracking Webcam either at school or in the home. And I never would."

She said she found the allegations to be "offensive, abhorrent, and outrageous."

Matsko, a mother of two high-school boys, said "if I believed anyone was spying on either of my children in our home, I, too, would be outraged." She told reporters that "as an educator for more than 20 years, I fully understand, and in many cases share, the concerns being expressed by parents, students and our community."

While saying she can't publicly disclose any private conversations she's had with a student and his parents, Matsko said she "must respond to some of the unjust and inaccurate stories that have been reported about me in the media." She said she has never disciplined a student for conduct he or she engaged in outside of school property that is not in connection with school or a school-related event. Speaking as a parent, she said she would "adamantly object to any attempt by my children's school to mete out discipline based upon conduct engaged in outside of school."

Recent media reports have "subjected my family, my husband, my teenage children to unfair and unjustified attacks," the assistant principal continued, adding that she has been the recipient of multiple offensive and threatening e-mails," and has read "horrible labels and names attributed to me in print and on the Internet, and have had to sit in silence while my good name has been dragged through the mud."

Matsko concluded by saying she will continue to cooperate with school officials and "other investigative authorities involved in this matter." She said that once all the facts are fully disclosed, it will resolve any doubt that the public may have regarding my integrity and dedication to the students and parents of our community, and will absolve me of the false accusations being unjustifiably made."

Matsko spoke only about her alleged role in the controversy and made no comment about the general accusation in the suit that the district used its Webcam remote-activation software to photograph a student at home. A federal judge has formally ordered the school to discontinue use of the software, a practice the school district said it had already shut down.

You can listen to the entire 5-and-a-half-minute statement, courtesy of CBS radio station KYW Newsradio 1060 Philadelphia.

Blake Robbins reads family's response to Matsko's statement. Brad Segall, KYW Newsradio

Robbins family responds to Matsko
After Matsko's statement, Blake Robbins read a statement (PDF) from his family saying "nothing in Ms. Matsko's statement is inconsistent with what we stated in our complaint. Ms. Matsko does not deny that she saw a Webcam picture and screenshot of Blake in his home; she only denies that she is the one who activated the Webcam."

Robbins also said the family is "thankful that the lawsuit has succeeded in getting this 'peeping tom' technology turned off.

Robbins said the family believes that "Lynn Matsko is a good educator and a good person," and that the case "is not about Ms. Matkso" but rather "about the decision of the school board...to place software in students' computers...which could be remotely activated to take snapshots."

You can listen to Blake Robbins read the 4-minute, 15-second statement here on KYW Newsradio's site.

Update, 7 p.m. PST: This story has been updated with quotes from a formal response from Blake Robbins' family.

Tags:
Security
About the author

Larry Magid is a technology journalist and an Internet safety advocate. He's been writing and speaking about Internet safety since he wrote Internet safety guide "Child Safety on the Information Highway" in 1994. He is co-director of ConnectSafely.org, founder of SafeKids.com and SafeTeens.com, and a board member of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. Larry's technology analysis and commentary can be heard on CBS News and CBS affiliates, and read on CBSNews.com. He also writes a personal-tech column for the San Jose Mercury News. You can e-mail Larry.

 

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