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Spying School District Furiously Backpedals as FBI Investigation Heats Up

“Epic” Does Not Quite Capture the Fail
The Lower Merion School District has more problems on its hands than disgruntled parents and a civil lawsuit. Problems started when the Harriton High School administration remotely activated webcams on students laptop computers to spy on the students at home. The case exploded when hubris-infused Assistant Principal Lindy Matsko apparently used the remote spying scheme to accuse 15 year-old student Blake Robbins of selling drugs. Robbins has since stated the “drugs” were actually Mike & Ike candies. While admittedly not a drug-identification expert, based upon my years of varied candy experience, I feel fairly confident even I would be able to differentiate Mike & Ike candies from drugs.

From Civil to Criminal
While a case of a school employee spying on children is not unheard of, this is the first case I have run across where the perpetrator did not apparently appreciate the wrongness of such spying. Most surreptitious spys of underage victims at least make an attempt to keep such activity hidden from the public. In its defense, the School District is now back-pedaling wildly, denying any wrongdoing and arguing that the school official was merely trying to be “supportive.” Detectives from Montgomery County, the Montgomery County district attorney and the FBI do not seem to be buying that story. All are now investigating the matter.

From Bad to Worse
In response to the uproar, the Lower Merion School District has stopped using the webcams to spy on students. Instead of apologizing and addressing the problem however, the School District maintains it has the right to access webcams on any of the 1,800 school-issued Macbook laptops at any time. If the FBI determines the School District violated federal wiretapping or unauthorized computer access statutes, school officials could find themselves in federal court, facing stiff criminal charges.

A Better Approach
Obviously the best approach is to educate the institution about the potential pitfalls of technology, prior to launching such a large initiative. Best practices should be researched and placed in the employee handbook before a problem arises. If any employees do not appreciate the problems associated with potentially capturing video of teenage girls changing or showering, it is best to immediately remove them from any contact with children until this issue is addressed. As with any technology, unforeseen security issues may still arise. If they do, contact a professional immediately to fix the problem. If the problem involves potential civil or criminal liability, contact legal counsel before you and your staff find yourselves penniless and/or being fitted for oversized orange jumpers.

Brett Trout

Posted in General, Internet Law. Tagged with , , .