$610,000 settles spycam case

Two students photographed in their bedrooms by their school-issued laptops have settled with the Lower Merion School District in suburban Philadelphia. The district will pay $610,000, Wired reports. One student gets $175,000, the other gets $10,000 and the rest goes their lawyers.

 School officians say the webcams were activated only if a computer was reported lost or stolen. The 6,900-pupil district lends free MacBooks to high school students.

The original suit was based on a claim by (Blake) Robbins, a sophomore at the time, that school officials reprimanded him for “improper behavior” based on photos the computer secretly took of the boy at home last fall. One picture shows him asleep at home last October.

That “behavior” turned out to be pill popping. The family said their son was eating Mike and Ike candy, his lawyer claimed.

The district says its insurance will pay the full cost of the litigation.  Prosecutors announced two months ago that no criminal charges will be filed.

56,000 spycam images

The Philadelphia Inquirer has more on the investigation of the Lower Merion School District spycam case,

(School) employees activated the web cameras and tracking software on laptops they gave to high school students about 80 times in the past two school years, snapping nearly 56,000 images that included photos of students, pictures inside their homes and copies of the programs or files running on their screens, district investigators have concluded.

. . . in at least five instances, school employees let the Web cams keep clicking for days or weeks after students found their missing laptops, according to the review. Those computers – programmed to snap a photo and capture a screen shot every 15 minutes when the machine was on – fired nearly 13,000 images back to the school district servers.

Only one student was monitored for failing to pay insurance on the laptop, investigators say.  That must have been sophomore Blake Robbins, who filed suit.  In 15 cases, investigators were unable to determine why school officials turned on the spycam.

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.