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How Did A High School in Philadelphia Spy on Their Students?

In 2010, the Lower Merion School District outside Philadelphia was caught red-handed for spying on their students at home. The school district eventually settled instead of going to trial. But the bigger question is, how did these things even happen?

A Philadelphia high school has issued a laptop to their students. What the students did not know was that the webcams were used as a way of spying on them since the school had the ability to turn them on remotely.

How Did The Students Find Out About the Cameras?

Blake Robbins, a sophomore, got to take home a laptop his school had issued. What he did not know was that the officials from school were watching him.

I don’t feel this school has the right to put cameras inside the kid’s homes, inside their bedrooms, and spy on them.

Holly Robbins, Blake’s mother

The Robbins family stated they found out about the violation after the assistant principal disclosed to Blake pictures of him and confronted him for engaging in so-called inappropriate behavior in his home. At this point, the family decided to file a federal lawsuit against the school, declaring officials had spied on their son and invaded his privacy.

The school officials haven’t denied the allegations; they admitted to capturing thousands of webcam photographs and screenshots from students’ laptops in an effort of locating missing computers. However, the incident with Robbins proved otherwise. Many privacy advocates were dismayed by the school’s approach. (Source: CBS News)

How Much Was the Settlement?

The school district settled the case for $610,000. The Robbins family wants to ensure this won’t happen again to anyone else’s children. They have asked congress to look and see if some changes are needed in the federal laws about spying, webcam spying, and other privacy rights. 

Pennsylvania senator, Arlen Specter, has introduced legislation to make it a federal crime to prevent this type of thing from going on. (Source: CBS News)

A Statement Issued by The Lower Merion School District

In light of the events that have transpired, the school released a statement on the issue.

We believe this settlement enables us to move forward in a most sensitive way to our students, taxpayers, and the entire school district community. The agreement is comprehensive and effectively resolves all components of the laptop litigation, including the Robbins and Hasan cases and the Graphic Arts insurance case. 

It is the product of a lengthy, court-ordered mediation involving the active participation of Judge DuBois and Chief Magistrate Judge Reuter. The terms of the agreement have been thoroughly reviewed in a number of executive sessions over the past few weeks. Throughout the entire process, the Board has aggressively sought to protect the interests of our taxpayers.

Although we would have valued the opportunity to finally share an important, untold story in the courtroom, we recognize that in this case, a lengthy, costly trial would benefit no one. It would have been an unfair distraction for our students and staff and it would have cost taxpayers additional dollars that are better devoted to education. 

We also wanted to be sensitive to the welfare of the student involved in the case, given the possible ramifications of what would have been a highly-publicized trial.
Regardless, the welfare of the students, especially their privacy and safety, matters the most. (Source: CBS News)

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