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    Op-Ed at Philadelphia Inquirer About Pennsylvania School District Webcam Scandal

    The Philadelphia Inquirer has an editorial about the school Webcam surveillance case in Pennsylvania. (Recap: In February, the Robbins family filed a lawsuit — 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. Federal prosecutors are looking into the scandal, and they have accused the judge in the civil suit of hampering their criminal investigation. Latest update here.)

    The Inquirer said:

    The sheer volume of Web-cam photos snapped by the Lower Merion School District to track school-issued laptops indicates how oblivious school officials were to students’ privacy rights.

    An investigation by the district found that nearly 56,000 images were taken after tracking software was turned on, usually when a computer was reported missing. […]

    But that doesn’t excuse the district’s actions. As [Henry E. Hockeimer Jr., the attorney hired by the district to lead the inquiry,] said: “The taking of these pictures without student consent in their homes was obviously wrong.”

    In fact, every one of the photos was inappropriate, since they violated students’ expected right to privacy in their own homes. […]

    School officials stumbled badly by failing to alert students and their families that the Web cams on their laptops could be activated as an antitheft measure. But even with such disclosure, the tracking program posed too much of a risk to students’ privacy. […]

    It’s a good idea for district officials to have parents review the images taken of their children, if only to reassure families as to the full dimension of any privacy breaches.

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