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    Update on Pennsylvania School District Webcam Surveillance Controversy

    There’s more news in the school district webcam scandal in Pennsylvania. Recap: In a February 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. The Lower Merion School District has put two Information Technology workers on leave. (For a discussion of the Fourth Amendment arguments, here’s a previous post.)

    Now, the media is reporting that some parents are against the class action lawsuit. A small group of parents (some of the 460 members of LMSDParents.org) have filed a motion seeking to intervene in the case, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports. “The parents want answers and privacy assurances about the use of cameras on district-issued student laptops, they said in a court filing. But they also want to avoid costly damage awards or a drawn-out class-action litigation with high legal fees, they said.” Though the school district has said the remote Webcam technology has been disabled, the parents want assurances that the technology will never be turned on again:

    The filing says that even if there is a quick settlement to the case, parents want the school district to permanently disable the technology that enabled it to activate student Web cams, and to come up with an alternative way of tracking missing laptops.

    The district has said the theft-tracking system, activated 42 times this school year, has already been disabled, but it has not said if the system will be used again, the motion said.

    The parents also want to have the district appoint a “public advocate” to review Web-cam use and report to the public, the motion said. The district has hired Center City lawyer Henry E. Hockeimer to represent it in the case and to conduct an investigation, but “the internal investigators are wearing too many hats” to properly represent parents’ interest, the parents’ group said in a statement yesterday.

    The group is also asking for new policies to be put in place to protect student privacy and spell out how the district may use Web-cam technology.

    In other news, U.S. Senator Arlen Specter (D-Pa.), chairman of the Crime and Drugs Subcommittee of the Judiciary Committee, will hold a hearing on the Webcam surveillance scandal on March 29. Student Blake Robbins says he was shown a Webcam photograph of him allegedly taking drugs. The Robbins family said there was no improper behavior and that the so-called drugs in the photo were Mike and Ike’s candies.

    Specter told the Philadelphia Inquirer, “The issue is one of surreptitious eavesdropping. Unbeknownst to people, their movements and activities were under surveillance. . . . The matter is in court on a civil suit and under investigation by the FBI. There is an issue whether we need federal legislation to deal with the technological advances.”

    The witnesses for the hearing are: Kevin Bankston, Senior Staff Attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation; Robert Richardson, Director of the Computer Security Institute (CSI); Larry Silver, Partner at Langsam Stevens & Silver, L.L.P; Marc Rotenberg, President of the Electronic Information Privacy Center; and John Livingston, Chairman and CEO of Absolute Software Corporation (acquired LANrev Theft Track). LANrev Theft Track is the remote surveillance technology used by the Lower Merion School District.

    The Philadelphia Inquirer also is reporting that one of the IT workers who was put on leave is refusing to give a deposition in the lawsuit.

    Carol Cafiero, the Main Line district’s information-systems coordinator, is attempting to quash a subpoena ordering her to testify, as lawyers for a Harriton High sophomore who is suing the district try to determine the scope of the laptop surveillance.

    Cafiero was one of only two school-district employees authorized to remotely activate the webcams […]

    Cafiero, who has been placed on paid leave from her six-figure job, could shed additional light on how the cameras were used. But her attorney, Charles Mandracchia, filed a motion yesterday to block her deposition, saying that it was “premature” and “unnecessary.”

    Mandracchia said that his client does not have access to pertinent documents. He expressed concern that Robbins’ attorney, Mark Haltzman, would “ambush her” in a deposition. […]

    The other school-district employee on paid leave, network technician Mike Perbix, has agreed to a deposition, Haltzman said. So has Lindy Matsko, the Harriton High assistant vice principal who allegedly approached Robbins about the pictures that were snapped by his webcam.

    One Response to “Update on Pennsylvania School District Webcam Surveillance Controversy”

    1. steve Says:

      it would be nice if they could find someone to sue besides the school district, so the public fisc won’t be saddled with the inevitable settlement. That being said, if it was school district employees who were doing the inappropriate snooping, respondeat superior bitches.

      / the employees could probably raise all the money they need if they just sold copies of the laptop cam videos online.

      // Larry Flynt would probably buy the whole lot of them

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