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    Update: Pennsylvania School Denies Using Web Cams to Snoop into Students’ Homes

    Previously, I wrote about a disturbing class action lawsuit — Robbins v. Lower Merion School District (pdf) —  in Pennsylvania, where families allege that the Lower Merion School District misused Web-cam-enabled laptops it issued to students in order to remotely peep into the students’ homes and violate their privacy. “An examination of all written documentation accompanying the laptop, as well as any documentation appearing on any Web site or handed out to students or parents concerning the use of the laptop reveals that no reference is made to the fact that the school district has the ability to remotely activate the embedded webcam at any time the school district wished to intercept images from that webcam of anyone or anything appearing in front of the camera,” the plaintiffs said in their complaint.

    The school district has responded and denied violating the privacy of its students and their families, Computerworld reports. The school district said that the laptops’ Web cams were only turned on to find lost or stolen laptops.

    In a statement released late Thursday, Christopher McGinley, the superintendent of Lower Merion School District of Ardmore, Pa., admitted that the MacBooks’ cameras could be turned on without the user’s knowledge, but said that the functionality was part of a security feature. […]

    [McGinley said that,] when switched on, the feature was limited to taking snapshots of whomever was using the notebook and capturing the computer’s current screen.

    Laptop cameras have only been activated for that purpose, McGinley continued. “The District has not used the tracking feature or web cam for any other purpose or in any other manner whatsoever,” he said.

    On Tuesday, a high school student and his parents sued the district, claiming that the boy’s MacBook had been used to spy on him in his home. According to the lawsuit, Michael and Holly Robbins of Penn Valley, Pa., said they first found out about the alleged spying last November after their son Blake was accused by a Harriton High School official of “improper behavior in his home” and shown a photograph taken by his laptop.

    Superintendent McGinley “confirmed that the district had disabled the camera activation feature Thursday, and would not switch it back on without the written consent of students and families.” A school district spokesman declined to answer questions about the lawsuit, but did say that the district will fight the lawsuit.

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