Police get Webcam pictures in school spy case

Two IT employees at Lower Merion School District have been put on administrative leave while alleged misuse of Webcams in student laptops is investigated.

Two IT employees at Pennsylvania's Lower Merion School District have been put on administrative leave, and pictures taken from Webcams on school-issued computers have been turned over to the local police department, according to the attorney of one of the employees now on leave.

Charles Mandracchia, attorney for school staff member put on leave, speaks to Fox 29 Philadelphia TV station Fox 29

Attorney Charles Mandracchia, who represents school district information coordinator Carol Cafiero, told Philadelphia TV station Fox 29 that that "they had a private Web site for some of these pictures for the Lower Marion Police Department to view and they were the only ones who could view it."

In February, the family of Blake Robbins, a 15-year-old student at Harriton High School filed a civil complaint in federal court against the district for allegedly using the Webcam on his school-issued laptop to take a photo of the student while he was at home. The district contends that cameras were only activated if a laptop had been reported lost or stolen. The district has since stopped using the tracking software to activate Webcams.

Speaking about his client and Michael Perbix, the other suspended IT staff member, Mandracchia said, "It was their duty to turn on the camera, but they would only do that if they received a request from the two high schools." He also said the pictures were "taken by the computer itself...every 15 minutes once the computer was open, but it was only supposed to be done if the computer was lost or stolen."

Marc Neff, the attorney for Perbix, told the TV station, "Every time a tracking device was activated, it was activated at the request of an administrator or another IT person. The district has admitted activating the Webcam tracking system 42 times.

The software used at the time, called LANRev, has since been acquired by Absolute Software, which has changed its name and removed the ability to remotely turn on Webcams. Absolute publishes LoJack for Laptops and Computrace, which can be used to locate stolen laptops but only after a police report has been filed and only by Absolute's own technicians--not its customers, according to a company spokesperson.

Main Line Media News quoted a district statement that said, "Placing [Cafiero and Perbix] on administrative leave with pay is not a reflection of any wrongdoing on their part. It is a standard, prudent step in an investigation such as this one and it occurred in conjunction with the start of the review process nearly two weeks ago."

Watch TV Station Fox29's reports on latest developments in school Webcam spy case

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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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