Lower Merion Says Many Webcam Photos Were Taken

 
 
By Brian Prince  |  Posted 2010-04-16
 
 
 

A Pennsylvania school district accused of spying on students with Webcams on school-issued laptops has conceded that a "substantial number" of photos have turned up in an investigation of the situation.

The Lower Merion School District has been at the center of a legal battle over the issue since the parents of Harriton High School student Blake Robbins filed a lawsuit against the school system in February. The family accused the district of using the Webcam on a school-issued Apple MacBook to take pictures of the student in his home.

The district, which had gave computers to the high school students as part of a technology initiative, outfitted the machines with management software called LANrev that could be used to remotely activate the machines' Webcams. The district has characterized the software as a security-tracking feature intended to recover lost laptops and reported that the software had been used 42 times for that purpose as of Feb. 19.

In a statement issued April 16, however, School Board President David Ebby said "a substantial number of Webcam photos have been recovered in the investigation."

Ebby said, "We have proposed a process to Judge DuBois whereby each family of a student whose image appears in any such photos will be notified and given the opportunity to view such photographs. Our counsel proposed that Chief Magistrate Judge Thomas Rueter handle that process. While our counsel has not yet met with Judge Rueter, Judge DuBois has agreed that such a process makes sense. We hope to start that process shortly. During that process the privacy of all students will be strongly protected.

"Also, the plaintiffs' motion suggests that the LANrev tracking feature may have been used for the purposes of 'spying' on students. While we deeply regret the mistakes and misguided actions that have led us to this situation, at this late stage of the investigation we are not aware of any evidence that District employees used any LANrev Webcam photographs or screenshots for such inappropriate purposes. Please also be reminded that we continue to fully cooperate and provide transparency to the United States Attorney's office in its investigation of the matter. To the extent there is any evidence of inappropriate conduct, it will be disclosed in the findings of the current investigations."

According to reports, Ebby's comments came a day after an attorney for the Robbins family filed a motion in federal court stating that the school system had captured "thousands of images of Webcam pictures and screen shots," including photos of students, their Web activity and instant message conversations.

The district reportedly plans to release the results of its own investigation within a few weeks.

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