Sunday, February 21, 2010

Your school did what?

This is one of those stories that is hard to believe even after one reads it. The Lower Merion School District of Ardmore, Pennsylvania has supplied more than 1,800 of its students with laptop computers. It didn't tell the students that the district had the ability to remotely activate webcams in the laptops and photograph students in their homes and bedrooms.

The jig was up when Assistant Principal Lindy Matsko of Harriton High School asserted publicly that student Blake Robbins had been "engaging in improper behavior in his home." Her evidence was photographs taken of the student remotely by the district's secret laptop embedded camera. Needless to say, Robbins' parents sued the school district. The lawsuit alleges, "many of the images captured and intercepted may consist of images of minors and their parents or friends in compromising or embarrassing positions, including, but not limited to, in various stages of dress or undress."

Tech News World reports the school district has rapidly backpedaled. "The district has now deactivated the feature, however, and has no plans to reactivate it "without express written notification to all students and families," wrote Superintendent Christopher McGinley in a statement issued on Thursday."

No kidding? Suddenly it has dawned on them that it was not a good idea to be secretly photographing high school kids in their homes? Didn't anybody in the district see "American Pie?"

Privacy lawyer, Parry Aftab, told Tech News World, "I have seen Trojan horses used by stalkers so they could turn on webcams remotely, but this is the first time I've ever heard of a school with the audacity to do something like this. There are criminal trespassing laws possibly at work here, and maybe wiretapping as well. This is not Nazi Germany or Cold War Russia... They have no authority over what students do in their own homes."

It is amazing that nobody in the district saw this coming. How could it not be obvious what a bad idea this was? It just goes to show how much American's general expectations of privacy have eroded. School administrators thought that this was good policy.


Rachel Mandel said...

Don't the school administrators know the law? While it is true that students possess fewer rights anywhere on school property, privacy rights within the home are sacrosanct. It is hard to believe that a group of educated people could agree that this was a reasonable idea; this is one incident among many and shows a trend toward a greater and greater surveillance in all spheres of our lives.

Clarion Content said...


So great to hear from you here. No doubt you are correct. It is hard to believe somebody approved this policy, and emblematic of our general loss of privacy, "greater and greater surveillance in all spheres of our lives."