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    Update: Pennsylvania School District Details Scope of Webcam Surveillance of Students

    The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that investigators in a Pennsylvania school district have found that, “Lower Merion School District employees activated the Web cameras and Internet address tracking software on laptops they gave to high school students about 146 times during the last two school years, snapping nearly 56,000 images.” 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 is investigating. Two school district employees, Carol Cafiero and Mike Perbix, were put on paid leave in February.

    Last week, the Robbins family’s attorneys alleged in a motion to compel (pdf) that more than 400 screenshots and photos were taken of Blake Robbins via the laptop webcam (including images of the teen sleeping or partially undressed), and “discovery to date has now revealed that thousands of webcam pictures and screenshots have been taken of numerous other students in their homes, many of which never reported their laptops lost or missing.” Also: Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Crime and Drugs Chairman Arlen Specter (D-Pa.), has introduced legislation concerning video surveillance in response to the scandal.

    School district investigators will give a full report on May 3. The Inquirer reports that the webcam images “included photos of students, pictures inside their homes, and copies of the programs or files on their screens. […] In about 15 activations, investigators have been unable to identify why a student’s laptop was being monitored.”

    The school district’s lawyer also told the Inquirer that the district’s investigation was not complete, “and that the numbers could change.”

    About 10 employees at the district and its two high schools had the authority to request the computer administrators to activate the tracking system on a student’s laptop, [Henry Hockeimer, the district’s lawyer,] said.

    Only two employees – information systems coordinator Carol Cafiero and network technician Mike Perbix – could actually turn on and off the tracking. Hockeimer said the district investigators have no evidence to suggest either Perbix or Cafiero activated the system without being asked.

    But the requests were loose and disorganized, he said, sometimes amounting to just a brief e-mail.

    “The whole situation was riddled with the problem of not having any written policies and procedures in place,” Hockeimer said. “And that impacted so much of what happened here.”

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