Suit alleges school snoop-cams peeped into students’ bedrooms

Things in the Lower Merion School District just keep getting creepier.

The Philidelphia Inquirer reported today that the webcams installed in laptops school-issued at Lower Merion High School in Pennsylvania secretly captured thousands of images—including students’ website history and online chat excerpts.

But it doesn’t stop there: the cameras also took photos of students in their bedrooms while they were asleep or undressing, according to a new motion filed in a suit against the school district yesterday by the parents of sophomore Blake Robbins of Harriton High School.

The motion states the webcam took multiple photos of Robbins in bed as he slept. The images were then sent to network servers at the school district. The Robbins family provided The Philadelphia Inquirer of a photo taken by the webcam of Blake sleeping.

The district issued school-owned laptops to 2,290 high school students last school year at Harriton. Superintendent Christopher W. McGinley said on the district’s website the laptops were given to students in an effort to promote more “engaged and active learning and enhanced student achievement.”

The motion states employees with access to the images from the tracking software commented on the images via e-mail with other employees. One IT employee referred to the Web camera photos and screenshots as “a little LMSD soap opera,” to which Carol Cafiero, the administrator running the program, responded, “I know, I love it!”

Cafiero has been placed on paid leave. Robbins’ lawyer says Cafiero has failed to turn her computer over to the plaintiffs despite a court order to do so, an account her lawyer disputes. Her lawyer also disputed the suggestion that his client had downloaded any such photos to her home computer, and said Cafiero has cooperated with federal investigators and is willing to let technicians hired by the district examine her computer if the judge so orders, as reported in The Philidelphia Inquirer.

In a statement on the Lower Marion School District website on Feb. 18, the district said “the laptops do contain a security feature intended to track lost, stolen and missing laptops.” The feature was deactivated that same day, the district said.

In a later statement, McGinley said: “…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”