I have long been amazed by the utter cluelessness of school officials regard just about all aspects of information technology. But the behavior of schools officials in Lower Merion, Pa., alleged in a lawsuit (brought to my attention by BoingBoing) sets a new standard, and not in a good way.
According to the suit, students in the Philadelphia Main Line suburb got a bit more than they bargained for when they were issued personal laptops by Lower Merion and Harriton High Schools. The suit claims that the laptops came with software that allowed school officials to activate the laptops’ Webcams and record the video at any time without the knowledge of the students and their families.the situation came to light when Harriton Assistant Principal Lindy Matsko told student Blake J. Robbins, whose parents brought the suit, that he had been observed engaging in “improper behavior” in his home. As evidence, the assistant principal showed Robbins a photo taken by the Webcom. The suit says Matsko subsequently confirmed that the school has the ability to activate the camera at any time. The suit does not describe the behavior.
If true–and the school system has not yet responded to the suit–this goes well beyond mere idiocy into serious illegality. The suit, filed on behalf of Robbins and all students of the two schools who were issued laptops, cites violations of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, the Stored Communication Act, the Civil Rights Act, and the Fourth Amendment (“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated…”), as well as Pennsylvania wiretapping and privacy laws.
The suit seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages from the school system, school board, and superintendent. Several of the laws cited also include criminal penalties, but there’s been no word yet of any action by the U.S. Attorney in Philadelphia or the Montgomery County prosecutor.