The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that the Lower Merion School District placed on leave two Information Technology workers, the latest update in an ongoing surveillance scandal. Recap: In a lawsuit — Robbins v. Lower Merion School District (pdf) — in Pennsylvania, the Robbins family alleged that the Lower Merion School District misused Webcam-enabled laptops it issued to students in order to remotely peep into the students’ homes, take photographs and violate their privacy. The school district has denied violating anyone’s privacy, claiming the Webcams were only turned on in case of lost or stolen computers. The FBI and local officials are investigating. There have been discussions among legal scholars about the Fourth Amendment implications.
The Inquirer reports that, “The two people authorized to activate the software — Michael Perbix, a network technician, and Carol Cafiero, information systems coordinator — were put on paid leave last week while lawyers and technicians examine how the remote system was used.”
Lawyers for Cafiero and Perbix said their clients did nothing wrong. Perbix and Cafiero only turned on the remote software when a laptop was reported missing, they said – and administrators knew what they were doing. […]
Both have been with the Lower Merion district 12 years, according to spokesman Doug Young.
Their lawyers said the use of the software was no secret. On at least two occasions, the district turned over pictures and other information to Lower Merion police so they could help track stolen laptops.
The school district even set up a secure Web site so the police could have access to pictures and other information, according to attorneys in the case. […]
[T]he district has acknowledged that the software was used 42 times this school year, to help recover 18 laptops. Still unknown is how many students were photographed, how many photos were taken, and what they showed.
Perbix has been scrutinized for his support of the remote-surveillance technology, including in the Stryde Hax blog’s excellent breakdown of the technology that the Lower Merion School District used for remote-activation of the laptops’ webcams. Stryde points to a promotional webcast for LANRev. “In it, Mike Perbix identifies himself as a high school network tech, and then speaks at length about using the track-and-monitor features of LanRev to take surreptitious remote pictures through a high school laptop webcam. A note of particular pride is evident in his voice when he talks about finding a way outside of LANRev to enable ‘curtain mode,’ a special remote administration mode that makes remote control of a laptop invisible to the victim,” writes Stryde.