Laptop Spying Scandal Heats Up

Philadelphia Inquirer: Lawyer: Laptops Took Thousands of Images

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.

Well, after breaking this story nationwide on February 17, I’ve been forced to take a back seat and learn about everything from the media as the rest of you have.  I knew it might happen, as it’s a matter of having extra time in the day, which I do not.

Nevertheless, this isn’t about me, or about America’s Right.  This is about a situation rapidly unraveling for the folks in the Lower Merion School District.  This new motion, as well as the photo released to the Philadelphia Inquirer, shows that the school district is much deeper in this than it originally wanted to admit.

Remember, on the day after the story first broke here at America’s Right and circulated around the Internet at breakneck speed, the principal at Harriton High School took to the loudspeaker in the morning and denied every accusation leveled by Blake Robbins and his family.

And then there was an official statement released later that day on February 18, in which the school district admitted to remote access capability and lack of notice given to students and parents, but also unequivocally stated the following:

• How did the security feature work?

Upon a report of a suspected lost, stolen or missing laptop, the feature was activated by the District’s security and technology departments. The tracking-security feature was limited to taking a still image of the operator and the operator’s screen. This feature has only been used for the limited purpose of locating a lost, stolen or missing laptop. The District has not used the tracking feature or web cam for any other purpose or in any other manner whatsoever.

And then, of course, two days after that the school district again reiterated that the web cam feature was only used in the rare case that a computer was reported lost or stolen.  That was the day when it first came out that Robbins first became aware of the spying when an administrator presented him with a photograph of him enjoying Mike & Ike candies in his own home and accused him of using illegal drugs.

The District has not used the tracking feature or web cam for any other purpose or in any other manner whatsoever?  Oops.  So, I guess it was necessary to take hundreds of images of Blake Robbins and, presumably, other Lower Merion students because they might, in the future, theoretically be able to allow their laptops to be possibly stolen?

And would observing the “little LMSD soap opera” not fall under that “any other matter” explanation?

If there’s any Lower Merion School District “soap opera” going on, it’s in the form of the information steadily trickling out about the district’s disturbing practice.

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Comments

  1. Jon says:

    Something i wonder is if there’s even more that’s illegal about this. Since these homes are using their personal internet accounts (especially if they’re on a home network with a router) the school was breaking into their home networks for unlawful purposes (i.e. hacking).

  2. Bedroom zoom says:

    Government is so creepy.

  3. Gail B. says:

    Somebody’s A$$ needs kicking out! And, is this going on in other school systems that have provided laptops to students? How do we find out? And, would it even help if state legislation prohibited any tracking software outside of locating a lost or stolen laptop? It seems to me that the legal issues already in place should suffice, aside from school officials knowing the difference between right and wrong. These school officials should be put out of their positions on their ears–without delay. If the school administrator doesn’t know (or care) when he is LYING, he can’t be trusted in any scenario!

    This is simply disgusting behavior on the part of LMSC personnel! My daddy couldn’t stand a liar or a thief; I can’t, either.

  4. Boston Blackie says:

    “Well, after breaking this story nationwide on February 17, I’ve been forced to take a back seat and learn about everything from the media as the rest of you have. I knew it might happen, as it’s a matter of having extra time in the day, which I do not.
    Nevertheless, this isn’t about me, or about America’s Right.

    Jeff, You take a back seat to nobody. Remember how Drudge made a name for himself. If not for him bringing attention to a certain intern with a little blue dress… As this case heats up, you can be assured that your site will be repeatedly mentioned as the initial source. WELL DONE!

  5. Ima SoBelle says:

    There is a laundry list of illegal activities in which this school district engaged on this issue and I agree that heads need to roll and these creeps need to be fired at the very least, if not prosecuted, too. This is not a funny matter. It is extremely serious and needs to be dealt with as such.

    Where is the Pennsylvania Attorney General on this? It seems to me that this family should not have to sue. Is there an ongoing legal investigation that may result in charges?

    Thanks, Jeff, for bringing this disturbing situation to light and for following up on it.

  6. Michelle Zhang says:

    Allegedly the kid lost two laptops prior.

  7. Boston Blackie says:

    Michelle,
    Not that it makes a difference to me but is that true or is the school making more excuses. I heard they said they turned on his computer because his parents never sent in the security deposit for the laptop. The bottom line is these are not legit excuses to turn on the webcam, this laptop was not reported lost. Can’t wait to see other parent’s reactions once all the pics are released.

  8. William A. Rose says:

    People do not need to simply be put out on their ears. They need to go to prison.

  9. Karla says:

    My guess is the admins are liberals in favor of big government. Obviously, many of the parents and school board members are too…The administrators have no business being around anyone’s children. How many of these kids had the computers on a desk in their bedroom? Hope I’m not offending anyone, but after showering, I often get dressed in my bedroom. I wonder how many nude photo’s of these kids are floating around on the net now? It is sickening, but liberals kept electing Ted Kennedy after he left a young woman to die alone in a car. It was the same as murder in my book. Liberals just don’t seem to have any moral values. What can you expect to happen? I think they’ll probably keep their jobs and get a standard pay raise next year.

  10. Gail B. says:

    Thank Goodness that we have Jeff to keep us posted on the outcome of these lawsuits!

  11. Mike says:

    School hasn’t changed much since I was there, except schools administrators now have the technology to extend their extracurricular power to places they could only dream about in the past.

    Karla give me a break. If you want to get mad about government intrusion, read the Patriot Act. This is something the schools did; they weren’t authorized by the government. Don’t just go around making uneducated guesses about the political beliefs of people you even don’t know, just to dishonestly try to push your politics. And seeing how conservatives could care less when Bush violated the constitution and did things like wiretap our fellow citizens and throw people into prision without a trial, your beef is obviously not because you care about freedom. You are just playing dirty politics.
    (and note: I voted against Obama, I just hate how so many present-day conservatives are hypocrites)

  12. Jeff Schreiber says:

    Mike,

    I agree wholeheartedly with you about the PATRIOT Act. I do think, though, that if conservatives were educated about it and actually considered the constitutional implications rather than the security implications alone, many would reconsider.

    Thanks for stopping by the site. This Lower Merion story is incredible. There’s so much going on, and I have so little time. Still, I think it’s going to get a whole lot more interesting before it fizzles out. 56,000 images!?! The IT woman used her Fifth Amendment privilege against self incrimination when asked whether she had downloaded any images to her personal computer at home!?! Incredible.

    Jeff

  13. Linda B. says:

    Jeff,

    This is truly amazing. Thank you for writing about this story. It is really disturbing to think the schools could use this supposed security software to spy on the students. We also know there would be many who would abuse this and watch the students for kicks. This reminds me of the incident when security people wanted to catch people shop lifting so they put up cameras in women’s dressing rooms to spy on them and ended up taking pictures, etc. Really makes you feel violated. What next will they put something into television sets to spy on families? Thanks again Jeff.

  14. Michelle says:

    @ Boston

    I absolutely agree. I’m just saying if he did indeed lose those laptops, they weren’t just turning on the webcam for no reason. (According to their “its ok to spy on students to get stolen laptops back” reasoning.)

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  1. [...] Friday morning brought with it a report in The Philadelphia Inquirer that, despite repeated assertions to the contrary by the district, the program designed to remotely access the cameras on the laptops reported lost or stolen had [...]

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