A federal invasion-of-privacy lawsuit may be the least of the Lower Merion School District's problems.
Allegations that the affluent suburban district used webcams on school-issued laptops to "spy" on students in their homes has now caught the attention of Montgomery County detectives and the FBI, both of which are looking into whether the practice violated wiretap and privacy laws.
The district is also fighting off a coast-to-coast onslaught of negative publicity that appeared to be growing more intense yesterday.
So, how did the school spy on students? By turning on the camera on their laptops while they were at home, and without their consent.
The lawsuit, filed Tuesday on behalf of Harriton High School student Blake Robbins, claims that an assistant principal reprimanded the 15-year-old for "improper behavior in his home" that was captured by the embedded camera on Robbins' school-issued Apple MacBook.
Robbins told reporters outside his house last night that the improper behavior he was cited for was eating Mike & Ike candies, which he said the school mistook for illegal pills.
District spokesman Doug Young acknowledged yesterday that officials had remotely activated computer webcams 42 times, but only in an attempt to recover missing or stolen laptops, and never to spy on students. He said families had not been notified about the possibility that the cameras on the 2,300 laptops could be activated in their homes without their permission.
OK, a couple of points here. Apparently the schools lawyers are asleep at the switch, or incompetent, because the school admitted to using the cameras on 42 occasions. Now, the reason they did this is completely irrelevant, because unless the school district involved the police and the police secured warrants, they broke the law and someone is going to prison for a LONG time.
Somehow, I don't think people will be laughing much in the near future. We are talking about some serious criminal charges like Illegal wiretaps, conspiracy, and criminal invasion of privacy. Should pictures turn up of naked teens, the child porn laws come in, and they are pretty Draconian (and rightly so). Of course, should the school be erasing logs, pictures, and other files relevant to this case, you can add obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice. Of course, if someone were sitting on any pix of naked teens, I think they'd be happy to cop to an obstruction charge after they destroyed the evidence.
If these charges are born out, many of these people should do hard time. Excuses about "protecting the children" don't cut it when you victimize the children in the process.