A U.S. school district used laptop webcams to spy on students at home, potentially catching them and their families in compromising situations.
Officials in Philadelphia can activate webcams on the computers without students' knowledge or permission, a lawsuit alleges.
Plaintiffs Michael and Holly Robbins suspect the cameras captured students from Harriton High School and family members as they undressed and in other embarrassing situations, it has been alleged.
Lower Merion School District officials said the laptops 'contain a security feature intended to track lost, stolen and missing laptops,' and that the feature was deactivated yesterday.
'We can categorically state that we are and have always been committed to protecting the privacy of our students,' he said.
Tom Halpern, a 15-year-old from Wynnewood, said students are 'pretty disgusted' and have started putting masking tape over their computer webcams and microphones.
'This is just bogus,' Halpern said. 'I just think it's really despicable that they have the ability to just watch me all the time.'
The accusations amount to potentially illegal electronic wiretapping, said Witold J. Walczak, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, which is not involved in the case.
'School officials cannot, any more than police, enter into the home either electronically or physically without an invitation or a warrant,' Walczak said.
A school district statement released late yesterday said the tracking feature would not be reactivated 'without express written notification to all students and families.'
The affluent district prides itself on its technology initiatives, which include giving laptops to each of the approximately 2,300 students at its two high schools.
Superintendent Christopher W. McGinley did not immediately return a message left yesterday.
The Robbinses said they learned of the alleged webcam images when Lindy Matsko, an assistant high school principal, told their son that school officials thought he had engaged in improper behavior at home.
The behaviour was not specified in the suit.
Matsko 'cited as evidence a photograph from the webcam embedded in minor plaintiff's personal laptop issued by the school district,' the lawsuit states.
Matsko later confirmed to Michael Robbins that the school had the ability to activate the webcams remotely, according to the lawsuit, which was filed Tuesday and which seeks class-action status.
The Robbinses declined to speak with an Associated Press reporter at their home Thursday. Their lawyer, Mark S. Haltzman, did not return messages.
The U.S. Supreme Court reaffirmed the privacy of the home when it ruled in 2001 that police could not, without a warrant, use thermal imaging equipment outside a home to see if heat lamps were being used inside to grow marijuana.
Technology or no, Supreme Court precedents draw 'a firm line at the entrance to the house,' Justice Antonin Scalia wrote, quoting an earlier case.
Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/worldnews/article-1252234/U-S-school-child-porn-probe-revealed-laptops-used-spy-pupils-home.html#ixzz0fzbqNh6G
Click to view image: 'Spy School'
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