February 19, 2010 12:20 PM
Suit: Lower Merion School District Allegedly Spied on Students Through Webcams
PHILADELPHIA (CBS/AP) Was Pennsylvania's Lower Merion School District secretly spying on its students with school-issued webcams?
(AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
Photo: Harriton High School in Bryn Mawr, Pa.
A federal lawsuit filed by Blake Robbins, a student at Harriton High and his parents, claims the school remotely spied on their son at home through a webcam on a laptop the school had given him.
They found out, they said, because assistant principal Lindy Matsko told Blake Robbins that he was engaged in improper behavior at home and claimed the school had the webcam photo to prove it. The behavior was not specified in the suit.
The suit states there is evidence of "photography from the webcam embedded in minor plaintiff's personal laptop issued by the school district."
District Superintendent Christopher McGinley says the school can remotely activate webcams in laptops they give to students but said they only do so when the machines are lost or stolen.
The Robbins family doesn't buy that. They believe the cameras captured their family and others in embarrassing situations, such as getting undressed.
These alleged actions can amount to potentially illegal electronic wiretapping, said Witold J. Walczak, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania."School officials cannot, any more than police, enter into the home either electronically or physically without an invitation or a warrant," he said.
Some students are outraged.
Sophomore Tom Halpern, 15, said, "I just think it's really despicable that they have the ability to just watch me all the time."
Angry students are putting tape on their computer's webcams and microphones.
The school district's statement released late Thursday said the tracking feature would not be reactivated "without express written notification to all students and families."
The affluent district prides itself on its technology initiatives, which include giving Apple laptops to each of the approximately 2,300 students at its two high schools.