A federal judge has “permanently banned the Lower Merion School District from using webcams or other intrusive technology to secretly monitor students through their school-issued laptops,” reports the Philadelphia Inquirer. 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.
A couple weeks ago, 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.” Federal prosecutors are investigating the case.
The Inquirer now reports:
The five-page injunction signed by U.S. District Judge Jan E. DuBois also requires the district to adopt transparent and expansive policies by September to govern its student laptop program.
It says Lower Merion can implement an alternative to webcam tracking to find missing or stolen computers, but only if the technology is “conspicuously disclosed” in a document signed by students and their parents. And it says the district needs to make accommodations for students who do not want to participate. […]
[The order] mirrored many of the practices Lower Merion officials had already pledged to institute.
Still, the injunction marked the latest and perhaps largest step the district has taken to move past the laptop-tracking furor that erupted three months ago. And though it is tailored only to protect the thousands who attend Lower Merion schools, some hope it can serve as a broader model for districts striving to make 21st-century technology an integral part of learning. […]
The judge also finalized plans to notify nearly 40 Lower Merion students who were surreptitiously photographed by their school-issued laptops so they and their parents can privately view the images. A federal magistrate will oversee the inspection process, and the photos will later be destroyed.