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    Update on Pennsylvania School Webcam Controversy: District Settles Two Lawsuits

    To 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 the 2,300 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 said it used the webcams only to track school-issued laptops that it thought were lost, stolen or inadvertently taken without permission.

    In May, lawyers and computer experts hired by the district to investigate the case released a report (pdf) that said there was “overzealous and questionable use of technology by [Information Services] personnel without any apparent regard for privacy considerations or sufficient consultation with administrators.” Later that month, a federal judge “permanently banned the Lower Merion School District from using webcams or other intrusive technology to secretly monitor students through their school-issued laptops.” (Wired had a story about security vulnerabilities in LANrev Theft Track, a remote-surveillance technology used by Lower Merion School District.)

    In August, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that the Lower Merion School District’s school board unanimously passed new policies “to govern the use and tracking of student laptops and other technology” to avoid a repeat of the recent controversy, which has cost the district “nearly $1 million in legal fees and expenses.” Also in August, the FBI announced that it has completed its investigation and federal officials would not be filing criminal charges.

    Now, the Associated Press reports that the Lower Merion School District has agreed “to pay $610,000 to settle two lawsuits over secret photos taken on school-issued laptops.” Also, “The settlement calls for $175,000 to be placed in a trust for Robbins and $10,000 for a second student who filed suit, Jalil Hassan. Their lawyer, Mark Haltzman, will get $425,000 for his work on the case.”

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