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Thread: Students Spied On With School Issued Laptops

  1. #1

    Students Spied On With School Issued Laptops

    Federal lawsuit brought against district for covertly monitoring students and families in their homes

    Steve Watson
    Infowars.net
    Thursday, Feb 18th, 2010

    A school district in Philadelphia faces a class action lawsuit after it allegedly issued laptop computers to 1,800 students across two high schools and then used concealed cameras within the machines to spy on students and their parents without their knowledge or consent.

    Lower Merion School District in the suburbs of Philadelphia faces charges of invasion of privacy, theft of private information, and unlawful interception for providing computers with webcams that were remotely and covertly turned on by administrators.

    The suit was brought on behalf of all the students and their parents after it was revealed that the computers had been used to monitor students both at school and at home.

    The case, Blake J. Robbins v. Lower Merion School District (PDF), was filed in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania on Tuesday, February 16, 2010.

    According to the filing, the actions of the school district were exposed when one of the school’s vice principals disciplined Mr Robbins’ son for “improper behavior in his home,” and used a photo taken from the computer camera as evidence.

    “Michael Robbins thereafter verified, through Ms. Matsko, (an assistant principal) that the school district in fact has the ability to remotely activate the webcam contained in a student’s personal laptop computer issued by the school district at any time it chose and to view and capture whatever images were in front of the webcam, all without the knowledge, permission or authorization of any persons then and there using the laptop computer.” the complaint states.

    “Additionally, by virtue of the fact that the webcam can be remotely activated at any time by the school district, the webcam will capture anything happening in the room in which the laptop computer is located, regardless of whether the student is sitting at the computer and using it.” it continues.

    Nowhere in any “written documentation accompanying the laptop,” or in any “documentation appearing on any Web site or handed out to students or parents concerning the use of the laptop,” was any reference made “to the fact that the school district has the ability to remotely activate the embedded webcam at any time the school district wished to intercept images from that webcam of anyone or anything appearing in front of the camera,” the complaint also states.

    The computers were provided via an initiative funded by state and federal grants to the students at Harriton High School in Rosemont, PA and Lower Merion High School in Ardmore, PA.

    According to comments by the district’s Superintendent, Christopher McGinley, the initiative “enhances opportunities for ongoing collaboration, and ensures that all students have 24/7 access to school based resources and the ability to seamlessly work on projects and research at school and at home.”

    What McGinley failed to add was that it also provided the school with 24/7 access to the students and their families.

    The plaintiffs also note in their complaint that “the laptops at issue were routinely used by students and family members while at home,” and that “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 stage of dress or undress.”

    The plaintiffs are seeking damages in respect of not only a violation of the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution, but also a host of other federal and state privacy laws, including the Electronic Communication Privacy Act, the Computer Fraud Abuse Act, the Stored Communications Act, the Civil Rights Act, the Pennsylvania Wiretapping and Electronic Surveillance Act, and Pennsylvania common law.

    Source...

  2. #2

    School Spycams Case Explodes As Feds Initiate Probe



    PBS show highlights ease of using big brother technology

    Steve Watson
    Prisonplanet.com
    Monday, Feb 22nd, 2010

    The case of the Lower Merion school district in Philadelphia spying on students in their homes via school issued laptops has gone viral, with the FBI announcing that it has opened an investigation into the matter.

    As we reported Friday, the district faces a class action lawsuit after it allegedly issued laptop computers to 1,800 students across two high schools and then used concealed cameras within the machines to covertly monitor the behaviour of students and their parents.

    In addition to charges of invasion of privacy, theft of private information, and unlawful interception, the school district has now become the focus of an FBI probe, as well as an investigation by Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office.

    An FBI spokesman, speaking anonymously, told CNN it was investigating to see if wiretap or computer intrusion laws had been broken.

    Students from the school described the schools alleged actions as “disgusting” and “a little scary”.

    “How do I trust this school district when they have done something like this?” one parent asked.

    Watch CNN’s report below:

    http://cnn.com/video/?/video/bestoft....computers.cnn

    District Superintendent Christopher McGinley has issued a statement rejecting the allegations:

    “At no time did any high school administrator have the ability or actually access the security- tracking software. We believe that the administrator at Harriton (High School) has been unfairly portrayed and unjustly attacked in connection with her attempts to be supportive of a student and his family. The district never did and never would use such tactics as a basis for disciplinary action.”

    However, according to the case against them, the evidence the plaintiffs cite includes a warning from the school to Mr Michael Robbins’ son Blake for “improper behavior in his home,” with a photo school officials took from the remote computer camera.

    Mr Robbins and his family have told reporters that an official mistook a piece of candy for a pill and thought Blake was selling drugs.

    Doug Young, spokesman for the Lower Merion District, told CNN that the district would only remotely access a laptop if it was reported lost, stolen or missing, a claim reiterated by Superintendent McGinley:

    “While we understand the concerns, in every one of the fewer than 50 instances in which the tracking software was used this school year, its sole purpose was to try to track down and locate a student’s computer,” he wrote. “While certain rules for laptop use were spelled out – such as prohibitive uses on and off school property – there was no explicit notification that the laptop contained the security software. This notice should have been given and we regret that was not done.”

    While the school district denies it ever used the tracking software for anything other than looking for stolen computers, it seems other schools across the country are actively using the same or similar technology to monitor students.

    The following clip is from PBS FRONTLINE: Digital Nation: Life on the Virtual Frontier, broadcast earlier this month. The clip is from segment 4 of the show titled Teaching with Technology.

    It effectively demonstrates the technology that has caused uproar in the Lower Merion case.

    The Assistant Principal of the featured high school demonstrates how he effectively spies on students by remotely accessing cameras in their laptops. He monitors their activity and even takes pictures of them, much to his own amusement:

    The entire show PBS show can be found here:
    http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontl...alnation/view/

    As we reported over the weekend, the technology is not limited to schools and students. Four years ago Google admitted that it was implementing similar invasive surveillance technologies that would target all Americans.

    It remains to be seen how effective an FBI investigation in the case of Lower Merion will be, given that the computers in question were provided via an initiative partially funded by federal grants.

    Additionally, in a country where the federal government has covertly spied on it’s own citizens for decades, it is, unfortunately, hard to imagine justice being metered out in this case.

    Source...

  3. #3

    Lawyer: Laptops Took Thousands of Images

    John P. Martin
    Philadelphia Inquirer
    Friday, April 16, 2010


    This photo, allegedly taken surreptitiously by the Lower Merion School District through a laptop web camera, shows Blake Robbins sleeping at home at 5 p.m. on Oct 26. (Photo provided by the Robbins family)

    The system that Lower Merion school officials used to track lost and stolen laptops wound up secretly capturing thousands of images, including photographs of students in their homes, Web sites they visited, and excerpts of their online chats, says a new motion filed in a suit against the district.

    More than once, the motion asserts, the camera on Robbins’ school-issued laptop took photos of Robbins as he slept in his bed. Each time, it fired the images off to network servers at the school district.

    Back at district offices, the Robbins motion says, employees with access to the images marveled at the tracking software. It was like a window into “a little LMSD soap opera,” a staffer is quoted as saying in an e-mail to Carol Cafiero, the administrator running the program.



    “I know, I love it,” she is quoted as having replied.

    Those details, disclosed in the motion filed late Thursday in federal court by Robbins’ attorney, offer a wider glimpse into the now-disabled program that spawned Robbins’ lawsuit and has shined an international spotlight on the district.

    In the filing, the Penn Valley family claims the district’s records show that the controversial tracking system captured more than 400 photos and screen images from 15-year-old Blake Robbins’ school-issued laptop during two weeks last fall, and that “thousands of webcam pictures and screen shots have been taken of numerous other students in their homes.”

    Full story here.

    Source...

  4. #4

    School Spy Laptops “Took Thousands Of Photos” Of Students In Homes



    Shocking New Details In School Laptop Spying Case

    Steve Watson
    Prisonplanet.com
    Friday, April 16th, 2010

    Related Reading: Students Spied On With School Issued Laptops

    Related Reading: School Spycams Case Explodes As Feds Initiate Probe

    Startling new evidence has emerged in the ongoing case of the Lower Merion school district in Philadelphia accused of spying on students in their homes via school issued laptops.

    The lawyer for the family of the student whose school issued computer was allegedly remotely accessed while in his home, says that thousands of images were taken, including photographs of other students in their homes, web sites they visited, and excerpts of their online chats.

    The case, Blake J. Robbins v. Lower Merion School District (PDF), was filed in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania on Tuesday, February 16, 2010.

    According to the filing, the actions of the school district were exposed when one of the school’s vice principals disciplined Mr Robbins’ son for “improper behavior in his home,” and used a photo taken from the computer camera as evidence.

    Though the district superintendent had denied that the laptops were remotely accessed for any purpose other than to track ones that had been lost or stolen, a new motion filed in the suit against the district asserts that the camera on Robbins’ laptop took photos of the boy partially undressed and also as he slept in his bed (see image above).

    “Each time, it fired the images off to network servers at the school district.” reports the Philadelphia Inquirer.



    The motion states that the system was designed to take a new picture every 15 minutes, along with a screenshot and a recording of the IP address, in order that the machine could be located.

    It also contends that employees at district offices with access to the images ogled them and reveled in the tracking software. One staffer referred to the software as like “a little LMSD soap opera,” in an e-mail to Carol Cafiero, the administrator running the program.

    “I know, I love it,” Cafiero is quoted as having replied.

    The Robbins family have suggested that Cafiero, currently suspended, “may be a voyeur” who may have downloaded some of the laptop photos of students on her home computer.

    Cafiero’s lawyer disputes the charge, and has stated that the claims have been falsified to prop up a failing case against the school district.

    The district has declined to comment on the new motion and says it is not aware of any misuse of the images taken from the laptops. The case is ongoing.

    Source...

  5. #5

    No criminal charges for school that spied on kids through laptops

    Flashback: School Spy Laptops “Took Thousands Of Photos” Of Students In Homes

    Daniel Tencer
    Raw Story
    Aug 19, 2010

    The federal prosecutor investigating the case of a Pennsylvania school district that spied on its students via remote-controlled laptop cameras says the school district won’t face criminal charges in the case.

    US Attorney Zane David Memenger said in a statement that there is no evidence the Lower Merion School District, in suburban Philadelphia, had any criminal intent when it remotely activated cameras on laptops issued to students.

    “For the government to prosecute a criminal case, it must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the person charged acted with criminal intent,” Memeger said, as quoted at Information Week. “We have not found evidence that would establish beyond a reasonable doubt that anyone involved had criminal intent.”

    The issue came to light in February, when the parents of Harriton High School student Blake Robbins filed a class-action lawsuit alleging the school district invaded Robbins’ privacy by filming him in his home through his school-issued laptop. It emerged later that the school district photographed Robbins 400 times in a two-week period, in various states of undress and even during his sleep.

    Investigators found that the remote-controlled cameras took some 56,000 pictures of Lower Merion School District students over a two-year period, with the cameras sometimes left on for weeks at a time.

    Full article here

    Source...

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