US school found guilty of webcam snooping

A US school which used webcams on laptops to spy on a student has been ordered to pay $260,000 to the family’s lawyer.

The Lower Merion School District in Philadelphia was found guilty of improperly using webcam-enabled laptops to spy on students. An injunction barring it from monitoring students via webcams on laptops was filed and the school was ordered to pay Mark Haltzman, the attorney of the student’s family, $260,000 for his work to secure the injunction.

The snooping was discovered after 15-year-old Blake Robbins was brought before the principal to be chastised for taking drugs. Photographic evidence of him taking pill-shaped objects was supplied, raising suspicions of exactly where the photos came from and why he was being monitored in the first place.

It was later discovered that the teenager was eating sweets and was not involved in the elaborate drug pushing scheme that the school was accusing him of.

The case raised some serious privacy questions, since some of the 400 photos taken of Robbins over a two week period were of him when he was asleep or partially undressed. The laptop was provided by the school, but the teenager was not informed that the webcam was recording him at 15 minute intervals.

The school later admitted that as many as 56,000 photos were taken of numerous students who were given laptops. The school claimed the photos were only taken as part of a tracking system for identifying where missing laptops were, even when they were not reported missing. It also claimed no “inappropriate” photos were taken but how sure can we be – we’re dealing with hormone crazy teenagers.

The FBI is also investigating the school over the possibility it has breached federal wiretap or computer-intrusion laws, which could lead to even more serious consequences.

Officials for the school said they were “disappointed” in the judge’s decision.