The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that Lower Merion School District employee Carol Cafiero contends in a court filing that student Blake Robbins “lost any legal protection from the Web-camera security system when he took a school laptop home without permission,” and therefore, “even in his own home, the Harriton High School sophomore had ‘no legitimate expectation of privacy’ from the camera on his school-issued laptop.” Cafiero and another school district employee, Mike Perbix, were put on paid leave in February, the same month the Robbins family filed a lawesuit — Robbins v. Lower Merion School District (pdf) — alleging that the Lower Merion School District in Pennsylvania misused Webcam-enabled laptops it issued to students in order to remotely peep into the students’ homes, take photographs and violate their privacy. The FBI is investigating.
The school district has denied violating anyone’s privacy, claiming the Webcams were only turned on in case of lost or stolen computers. However, investigators in a Pennsylvania school district have found that “Lower Merion School District employees activated the Web cameras and Internet address tracking software on laptops they gave to high school students about 146 times during the last two school years, snapping nearly 56,000 images.” (The Stryde Hax blog has an excellent breakdown of the technology that the school district used to remotely control Webcams in 2,300 laptops it issued to students.)
The Inquirer reports:
Robbins had previously broken “at least two” school computers and did not pay the insurance fee required to get permission to take home the Apple MacBook that later snapped his pictures, Cafiero’s attorney, Charles Mandracchia, wrote in the filing.
“When you’re in the home, you should have a legitimate expectation of privacy,” Mandracchia said in an interview. “But if you’re taking something without permission, how can you cry foul when you shouldn’t have it anyway?” […]
It was not immediately clear if the school district agreed with any of the arguments made in Cafiero’s court filing. Reached Tuesday night, [Henry] Hockeimer, the former federal prosecutor who is the district’s lead lawyer in the dispute, said “no comment” when asked about Cafiero’s filing. […]
[Mandracchia] said Cafiero did not invoke her Fifth Amendment protections against self-incrimination in response to any of the FBI agent’s questions, though she had done so earlier when the Robbinses’ lawyer, Mark S. Haltzman, sought to question her under oath in a deposition for the family’s civil suit. […]
By phone, Haltzman said Cafiero’s latest filing showed “no respect for the privacy of Blake Robbins” by offering details of the sophomore’s past issues with computers and insurance fees. Haltzman also said the district itself “has never asserted” that Robbins had waived his right to privacy by taking home a laptop without permission.