Pennsylvania School Accused of Cyberspying

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Blake Robbins, who said his school used a remote-controlled webcam to spy on him.
CBS

Blake Robbins never imagined the computer he got from school could peer into his personal life.

"I thought there was no way they could do this in my home," Blake said.

His parents, Holly and Michael Robbins, filed a federal lawsuit against his suburban Philadelphia school district, claiming administrators spied on him using a remote-controlled webcam on his school-issued laptop, reports CBS News correspondent Michelle Miller.

"I don't feel that school has the right to put cameras inside the kids' home, inside their bedrooms and spy on children," Holly said.

The suit claims a Harriton High School official enabled the device, concerned the sophomore was "engaged in improper behavior in his home." An assistant principal later confronted the student, citing a photograph taken by the webcam as evidence.

"She thought I was selling drugs which is completely false," Blake said.

The camera is right here. And the lens is able to pick up a wide angle shot of anything directly in front of it. One of these Apple Computers is provided to every high school student in the Lower Merion School District, 2,300 in all.

The school says the feature is only used to locate a lost, stolen or missing laptop, and that they used the feature 42 times to recover 28 laptops over 14 months.

But the family insists they never reported the laptop as missing.

Other families are concerned.

"I just received an e-mail from my daughter who is very upset saying, 'Mom, I have that laptop open all the time in my bedroom even when I'm changing,'" one worried mother said.

Many privacy advocates say this may be a first.

"This is one of the most egregious privacy violations I've ever heard of," said Marc Rotenberg, the director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center. "People reasonably wouldn't have even thought of the possibility that the school districts intended to view their children remotely and surreptitiously."

School officials say they've now disabled the feature. But with reports of the FBI opening an investigation into possible wiretap violations, it is now the school district who has to worry about scrutiny.

  • Michelle Miller
    Michelle Miller

    Michelle Miller is the co-host of "CBS This Morning: Saturday." As an award-winning correspondent based in New York, she has reported for all CBS News broadcasts and platforms. She joined CBS News in 2004.