Saturday, April 17, 2010

Explosive Allegations in Penn. School Spycam Suit

Raw Story provides the latest on a motion in a Pennsylvania lawsuit arising from alleged, improper remote-access by Lower Meridian school district officials to web cameras installed on the standard-issue laptops it provided to its high school students:

A Philadelphia-area school district secretly took "thousands" of webcam photos of students in their homes and tracked their Web site visits and parts of online chats through spy software installed on the students' school-issued laptops, a Pennsylvania court heard yesterday.

...In a motion filed in court on Thursday, Robbins' lawyers asserted that the school district had taken at least 400 snapshots of 15-year-old Robbins, including some of him sleeping. The motion also stated that "thousands of webcam pictures and screen shots have been taken of numerous other students in their homes," the Philadelphia Inquirer reports.

And in a strange twist to the story, the lawyers also suggested that Carol Cafiero, one of two school administrators with access to the spying technology, "may be a voyeur" who spied on students for her personal gratification, as some of the images taken by the laptops may have ended up on her personal computer.

The motion asks the judge to force Cafiero to turn over her home computer, which she has refused to do so far. Earlier this week, during a deposition, Cafiero pleaded the Fifth Amendment to all questions regarding her involvement in the alleged school spying.

Watching the students at home was like "a little [Lower Merion School District] soap opera," said a staffer in an email obtained by Robbins' lawyers.

"I know, I love it," Cafiero responded in a reply email, as quoted at the Inquirer.

If true, the allegations against Cafiero would realize privacy advocates' worst fears about the school district's monitoring of students at home: That the technology is all too open to abuse by those who would seek to exploit children.

- Garry J. Wise, Toronto

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