Spycam suit: Photos, e-mail show snooping

In response to a lawsuit charging school-issued laptops were used as spycams, Lower Merion School District has turned over photos showing 15-year-old Blake Robbins partially undressed and sleeping in bed, excerpts of online chats and information on web sites visited. From the Philadelphia Inquirer:

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.

The remote monitoring system was supposed to be used to track lost or stolen laptops. The district says the camera was turned on because Robbins had failed to pay the $55 insurance fee required to take the laptop home.

His parents’ suit claims district records show more than 400 photos and screen images from their son’s laptop during two weeks last fall, plus “thousands of webcam pictures and screen shots” of  “numerous other students in their homes.”

Robbins and his parents say they first learned of the technology on Nov. 11, when an assistant Harriton principal confronted the teen with an image collected by the tracking software.

Robbins has said one image showed him with a handful of Mike and Ike candies – which the administrator thought were illegal pills.

School officials could have demanded that Robbins return the laptop or pay the insurance fee without taking a single photo — much less 400 — to prove he’d taken it home. There is no excuse for tracking his web use or online chats.

About Joanne


  1. dangermom says:

    Holy cow. Did NO ONE in that office think “Gee, taking surreptitious photos of teenagers in their rooms might not be such a hot idea” ??

  2. Ummmm, I would say that this school district is in quite a bit of legal trouble (violations of Penn. privacy statues), and possible violations of wiretapping law.

    The district’s IT staff and the administrators involved may possibly looking at criminal charges, along with a civil rights violation lawsuit (unlimited damages here folks).

    What idiots…

  3. Not to mention possible child porn charges. Pictures of a pre-18 year old kid, “partially undressed” in his/her own room could well trigger child porn charges.

    Stupid gits.

  4. Well, color them morons. I know school officials can be stupid, but I am shocked that the lawsuit is actually describing them accurately.

  5. Richard Aubrey says:

    Reasonably intelligent people can figure simple things, presuming they’re not distracted by excitement.

  6. “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.”

    Disgusting. Utterly disgusting. This is voyeurism. It’s not much different from the Peeping Tom peering into windows. If a district employee were caught peering into the window of a child in the district, there would be calls to string him or her up. Using a computer to spy on these kids is no different.

    All the people involved with this should be fired and charged with something – invasion of privacy, at the very least.

  7. The real disgrace here is how the school district originally circled the wagons and tried to go the “stonewall” route, as the Watergate conspirators used to say. If it turns out that evidence has been hidden and ever suppressed, I would place a lot of blame on attorneys who may have very foolishly abetted and enabled the school people in their self-delusion that this was going to go away.

    It is obvious that the only way the District is going to learn anything is if they get slammed hard. Let it be hard enough that all the pigs squeal. Let the people feel the pain as taxpayers, and express that pain as voters.

    I do not know what has happened regarding criminal charges up to now. I hope the Federal prosecutors are doing their jobs, and I hope they are on to top of the current prosecutors’ favorites, false statements to anthorities and obstruction of justice.

    If any false statements have been madem any cover-ups attempted, that’s where the felony convictions and the jail time will be coming from.

  8. Don Bemont says:

    The whole thing is despicable, but entirely believable… a reap what you sow moment.

    Such invasion of privacy has its roots in a culture that permits conservative initiatives to permit increasing snooping in the name of security and crime prevention… and in liberal initiatives to permit intrusion to enforce their ideas of proper family conduct.

    Over 35 years, I have worked with many people who would have willingly have gone along with this Merion escapade, if someone else had provided the technology — and I am sure this would have included those with both liberal and conservative purposes.

  9. Richard Aubrey says:

    I understand Child Abductive Services does not see any moral or legal limit on their powers of interference.
    But, other than listening in to conversations of foreign terrorists, what conservative snooping are you talking about?

  10. Don Bemont says:

    Since you are, I am sure, referring to the Patriot Act, you might want to consider the following quote:

    “I strongly believe the Patriot Act was not created to be used in crimes unrelated to terrorism.”

    “Recent reports, including one from the General Accounting Office, however indicate that the Patriot Act has been employed in investigations unconnected to terrorism or national security.”

    The speaker of those words? Newt Gingrich.

    I gather that you admit to liberal permissiveness when it comes to snooping, so I won’t rehash that. But large numbers of conservatives have always been willing to forgo privacy rights for those they consider outside the political mainstream (think of King’s treatment by the FBI) or suspect of engaging in criminal activity which is difficult to stop. Like liberal snooping, it not so slowly evolves into invading the privacy of anyone they just really don’t like.

  11. Richard Aubrey says:

    Gingrich said it was happening. You spoke of conservative support. That statement did not indicate support.

  12. Richard Aubrey says:

    Laws expand. See RICO and civil asset forfeiture.
    Whether this is conservative or not is a question. I don’t know of many conservatives who like CAF or RICO, expanded or not.

    You’d think somebody at LMSD would have said, “this is a bad idea.”
    You’d think it would only take one to bring them to their senses.
    Apparently not.


  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by JoanneLeeJacobs. JoanneLeeJacobs said: New blog post: Spycam suit: Photos, e-mail show snooping http://www.joannejacobs.com/2010/04/spycam-suit-photos-e-mail-show-snooping/ […]