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    Update on Pennsylvania School Webcam Surveillance Case

    The Philadelphia Inquirer has an update on a 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.

    On Monday, the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Crime and Drugs held a field hearing — “Video Laptop Surveillance: Does Title III Need to Be Updated?” – on the laptop Webcam surveillance scandal at the Lower Merion School District. After the hearing, Subcommittee Chairman Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) said that the scandal “has inspired him to write proposed legislation that would extend similar privacy restrictions for sound recordings under federal wiretap law to pictures and video captured by cameras,” reports the Philadelphia Inquirer.

    “The incident raises a question as to whether the law has kept up with technology,” Specter said.

    The experts largely agreed, noting in their testimony that the vast expansions of electronic communications and the number of video cameras – particularly on cell phones – since privacy laws were written.

    Federal wiretap law restricts how telephone and in-person conversations can be recorded when the speaker can reasonably expect privacy, but no such law governs visual images. Thus the remote use of a laptop camera to take a picture of a school-issued computer’s user at home, for example, would not appear to break a federal law as long as no sound recording was made as well, Specter said. […]

    No one from the school district testified.

    Specter did not say when he would be ready to introduce such legislation.

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