School IT Department Spy Case Heats Up

Author: Bradford Schmidt
Published: April 19, 2010 at 11:10 am


In a case that's both bizarre and incredibly disturbing, more motions have been filed in the lawsuit against the Lower Merion School District (in a Philadelphia suburb) accusing the IT department of spying on high school students via the webcams in school-issued laptops. Yes, really.

First, a recap for those of you that missed the story the first time around. A few months ago, the school district in question disciplined a student, Blake J. Robbins, for "improper behavior in his home."

Now, it's hard enough to believe that a school actually thinks it has the right to dictate personal behavior of a student in his home, but what's most disturbing is the evidence used to back up the accusation: a photo taken from the webcam in the laptop the school issued Robbins.

So in February, Robbins' parents filed a class action suit charging violations under the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, Stored Communications Act, and the Civil Rights Act.  The suit also made charges of invasions of privacy, and violations of the Pennsylvania wiretapping and electronic surveillance act.

In a letter from the school district to parents, Dr. Christopher W. McGinley (that'd be Doctor Creepy to you), superintendent of the school district, admitted there was software installed in the laptops that allowed the schools to spy on people using the webcam, but claimed it was only to be used in the event of the laptop being stolen. Riiiiiiight.  The letter goes on to say:

"We regret if this situation has caused any concern or inconvenience among our students and families." They neglected to add "but we really, really want to see your 16-year-old daughter naked in her room."

Once the suit was filed, the school stopped using the software, but not before the FBI got involved and investigated the school for violations of the federal wiretapping law.The whole disgusting mess was capped by the following interview on NBC, in which the lawyer for the family said the initial accusations were brought after the school watched Robbins eating Mike & Ike candies and mistook them for pills. Lots and lots of multi-colored pills.

Continued on the next page

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Article Author: Bradford Schmidt

Bradford Schmidt is a feature writer at the award-winning newspaper Florida Weekly. He also runs a handmade soap company, Absolute Soap, with his wife. You can follow him on Twitter @BradfordSchmidt. …

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