Webcam Spying Suit in Lower Merion School District Triggers War of Words

A high school assistant principal in the Lower Merion School District in Pennsylvania lashes out about the Webcam spying allegations, while the student at the center of the case says her denials fall short.

The Webcam spying allegations that have rocked Pennsylvania's Lower Merion School District turned into a verbal sparring match Feb. 24 when a high school administrator offered an emotionally charged rebuttal that the family suing the district said does not constitute a denial of relevant facts.

The parents of Harriton High School student Blake Robbins filed a class action lawsuit (PDF) Feb. 11 alleging that the school remotely activated a Webcam and took a picture of their son, which they accuse Assistant Principal Lynn Matsko of citing as evidence that he was engaged in "improper behavior in his home."

In response to what she termed "many false accusations reported about me in the media," Matsko denied any involvement in spying on Robbins or any other student.

"If I believed anyone was spying on either of my children in our home, I too would be outraged ... At no point in time did I have the ability to access any Webcam through security tracking software," Matsko said. "At no time have I ever monitored a student via a laptop Webcam, nor have I ever authorized the monitoring of a student via security tracking Webcam either at school or within the home. And I never would."

She continued, "In my 10-plus years as an assistant principal I have never disciplined a student for conduct he or she engaged in outside of school property that is not in connection with school, or a school-related event. That is not, has never been and never should be my role."

Calling the allegations "abhorrent and outrageous," Matsko said she has been subjected to numerous "offensive and threatening" e-mail messages since the controversy broke.

After her statement, Robbins read a statement to the media in which he stressed that the intent of the suit was not to disparage Matsko, but to take the school board to task for green-lighting the technology involved in the accusation.

The students' MacBook laptops were outfitted with management software called LANrev that could be used to remotely activate the Webcams. The district has characterized the technology as a security tracking feature intended to recover lost laptops, and has reported that the software had been used for this purpose 42 times as of Feb. 19.

In his statement, Robbins noted that Matsko did not deny seeing a Webcam picture and screenshot of him in his home-she denied having authorized or activated the Webcam.

"We have no reason to doubt Ms. Matsko's statement that she did not personally activate the Webcam on my computer, but that has never been the issue," he said. "The issue is that we know someone accessed my Webcam and provided Ms. Matsko with a screenshot and a Webcam picture of me at home in my bedroom."

In an interview with the Philadelphia Inquirer, an attorney representing the Robbins family claimed Matsko told the student directly that he had been observed via the Webcam "trying to sell pills."

After being notified of the lawsuit, the district disabled the feature and pledged not to re-enable it without notifying students and their family members. Meanwhile, the FBI and local investigators have reportedly opened up an investigation into the case.