School district: Spy Webcams activated 42 times

The Lower Merion School District, accused of spying on students at home via laptop Webcams, admits that it activated them 42 times in a 14-month period.

When one hears the word "spy," one normally thinks of places like Moscow, London, and Washington rather than Rosemont, Pa. However, the controversy swirling around Rosemont's Harriton High School and the Lower Merion School District increasingly makes for bizarre reading. And even more bizarre thinking.

The school district has been accused of remote-controlled Webcam spying on its students. The student at the center of the allegations, Blake Robbins, claims the school, having produced a still photograph taken remotely by a school official, falsely accused him of selling drugs (I have embedded the video of CBS News interview with Robbins and his family).

One fact, though, has emerged that seems mystifying in the extreme.


Watch CBS News Videos Online

According to the Washington Post, the school district has admitted activating students' laptop Webcams 42 times over a 14-month period. The district claims each activation was merely an attempt to locate a stolen or missing laptop.

However, district spokesman Doug Young told the Post that the documentation signed by students when they received the laptops did not make it clear the Webcams could be activated remotely.

"It's clear what was in place was insufficient, and that's unacceptable," he said.

While the school scrambles to defend itself against accusations of violating the Fourth Amendment, as well as transgressing the Electronic Communication Privacy Act, the Computer Fraud Abuse Act, the Stored Communications Act, Section 1983 of the Civil Rights Act, the Pennsylvania Wiretapping and Electronic Surveillance Act, and Pennsylvania common law, it becomes increasingly difficult to see how it will defend its actions.

It's one thing to attempt to install security procedures to protect against the loss of a laptop. It's quite another when those procedures appear to have been enacted without the knowledge of students or parents and leave the school open not only to all of the charges already leveled in the Robbins' lawsuit, but also--as in the case of a student who leaves her laptop open in the shower to listen to music--to charges of child pornography.

 

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