Did a Pennsylvania school spy on families via district-issued webcams?

Kim LaCapria - Author
By

May 13 2014, Updated 4:48 p.m. ET

A school in a Philly suburb has attracted international attention after a lawsuit was filed accusing school administrators of using webcams on school-issued laptops to spy on students after hours.

The school’s surveillance oversteps came to light when a student was disciplined for “improper behavior in his home.” The school’s evidence? Images that came from the laptop’s webcam, allegedly captured without the family’s consent or knowledge. A class action lawsuit has been filed on behalf of all students whose privacy may have been violated by the district’s actions, but students say that suspicions have been long-standing that the school used the laptops in a shady way to illegally spy on kids at home:

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Frequently, the green lights next to our iSight webcams will turn on. The school district claims that this is just a glitch. We are all doubting this now.

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I questioned the IT guy about why it was happening he said that it was because people logged out when an application using the camera was on, he also stated that they could in fact go and look through your webcam it would just violate the fifth ammendment and that’s why they didn’t.

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While the school says the webcams are only remotely activated when a laptop is reported lost or stolen, would you put the cost of a laptop ahead of your child’s privacy and integrity? CBS News spoke to parents in the district:

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Karen Gotlieb, a parent of a student who attends the school, said, “I just received an e-mail from my daughter, who is very upset, saying, ‘Mom, I have my laptop open in my room all the time, even when I’m changing.”

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While it hasn’t been confirmed that the Lower Merion school district had a policy of using the laptops to illegally spy on families at home, if the allegations bear out, this type of behavior should be quashed vociferously. Everyone who might be implicit in such an initiative should be called to answer for what seems to be felonious behavior, lest any other schools get inspired to follow their lead.

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