The Lower Merion (Pa.) School District will pay $610,000 to settle lawsuits over its tracking of student laptop computers, ending an eight-month saga that thrust the elite district into a global spotlight and stirred questions about technology and privacy in schools. Students had contended that the district spied on them by secretly activating the webcams on their laptops.
AUGUST 2010....from The Philadelphia Inquirer: Prosecutors say they will not bring criminal charges in the Lower Merion (Pa.) School District webcam saga, ending their six-month probe into allegations that employees spied on students through laptops.
Earlier....from The Philadelphia Inquirer: The Lower Merion (Pa.) School District has adopted a new set of policies to govern the use and tracking of student laptops and other technology, its latest step to get past the furor of webcam monitoring. The measures spell out in detail when, how, and for what reasons school officials can access or monitor the laptops they will distribute to each of the district's nearly 2,300 high school students.
JULY 2010...from The Philadelphia Inquirer: A second lawsuit has been filed that accuses the Lower Merion (Pa.) school district of violating a student’s privacy via the webcam on his school-issued laptop. The family of an 18-year-old student who graduated this year from Lower Merion High School says that more than 1,000 images were surreptitiously captured by the computer -- 469 webcam photographs and 543 screen shots. The suit joins one filed in February by a student at Harriton High School. The cases are similar. Electronic monitoring was triggered when school-issued computers were reported missing. In each case, the system was left on long after the laptops were recovered.
MAY 2010...from The Philadelphia Inquirer: A security firm says it needed just hours to hack into a version of the laptop tracking system that the Lower Merion (Pa.) School District used, suggesting that tech-savvy outsiders could have commandeered the computers and watched students through their webcams.
Earlier...from The Philadelphia Inquirer: Inconsistent policies. Shoddy record-keeping. Misstep after misstep. "Overzealous" use of technology "without any apparent regard for privacy considerations." Those were the conclusions a team of attorneys and computer experts reached after a 10-week investigation into how, when and why the Lower Merion (Pa.) School District turned on the Web cams and software that secretly snapped thousands of photos and screen shots from student's laptop computers.
APRIL 2010...from The Philadelphia Inquirer: A Lower Merion (Pa.) school administrator who had the ability to activate cameras on students' laptops has agreed to answer questions under oath about her role in the tracking system and to let investigators inspect her home computer. Carol Cafiero has previously refused to give a deposition in the lawsuit spawned by the Web-cam system, asserting her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
Earlier....from The Philadelphia Inquirer: Lower Merion (Pa.) School District 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 most of the cases, technicians turned on the system after a student or staffer reported a laptop missing and turned it off when the machine was found. But in at least five instances, school employees left the cameras on for days or weeks after students found their missing laptops. 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.
EARLIER...from The Philadelphia Inquirer: The president of the Lower Merion (Pa.) school board says investigators have retrieved "a substantial number" of photos secretly taken by laptops that the district gave its high school students. Officials are arranging for parents whose children were photographed to see the pictures in private. Board president David Ebby says an investigation has found no evidence that district employees used the technology for "inappropriate" purposes. The discovery of the secret surveillance system has led to a lawsuit, a federal criminal inquiry, a call for new privacy legislation, and a wave of national publicity.
MARCH 2010...from The Philadelphia Inquirer: Soon after Lower Merion (Pa.) schools started handing out laptops to high school students in 2008, a school board member had a question: Were any being lost or stolen? Technology officials told the board that the machines could be tracked. But they never mentioned that they were using a powerful software program that could secretly snap photos of the user. That practice has sparked a civil lawsuit, a federal criminal investigation, and an international uproar about privacy in the digital age.
FEBRUARY 2010...from The Philadelphia Inquirer: Federal prosecutors have subpoenaed the Lower Merion (Pa.) District for documents related to the use of remote-control cameras on students' school-issued computers. The grand jury subpoena asks for a broad range of records related to the webcams and the security system that district officials used to activate them.
SIDEBAR: Privacy experts calls the case unprecedented and perhaps a harbinger of the future as the reach of technology expands beyond school walls.
From The Philadelphia Daily News: A federal, class-action lawsuit alleges that the Lower Merion (Pa.) School District officials used webcams embedded in school-provided laptops to spy on teens and their families at home. The suit asserts the remotely controlled covert cameras violate everything from the Fourth Amendment to wiretapping, electronic communications and computer fraud laws.