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Big Bro Talks Back: School Responds To WebCam Suit

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By Tanya Roth, Esq. on February 19, 2010 10:20 AM

As widely reported and written about here, last week a high school student and his parents in the Lower Merion School District of Pennsylvania, sued the district over their alleged use of webcams onboard the school laptops issued to high school students. Today, the district responded.

According to the complaint in the case, Robbins v. Lower Merion School District, student Blake Robbins and his parents allege that the schools' ability to activate the webcams at their pleasure was a violation of privacy under the Constitution, federal statutes and state laws. The suit claims the students and parents were never informed of the school's ability to activate the webcam at any time and without the knowledge of the students and parents who had the school laptops in their homes. 

Today, MSNBC reports School Superintendent Christopher McGinley posted a letter to parents on the district website late yesterday in response to the suit and the "widespread student outrage" over the alleged use of the web cams. According to the letter, the schools' security and technology teams would activate the webcams only when a school laptop was reported missing or stolen. The letter continues:

"The security features capabilities were limited to taking a still image of the operator and the operator's screen. This feature was only used for the narrow purpose of locating a lost, stolen or missing laptop," McGinley wrote. "The District never activated the security feature for any other purpose or in any other manner whatsoever." 

The Robbins' suit was initiated after the assistant principle at Blake Robbins' school informed him that his laptop webcam had captured him doing something "improper." It is unclear whether or not there is any report in existence of Robbins' laptop having been reported as missing, which is supposedly necessary to trigger the school's use of the camera. At this point, it the facts don't quite add up.

According to today's New York Times, students are now reporting they noticed the indicators showing the cameras were in use lighting up at random times. The Times also writes the students in the district are twittering about the suit, saying things in the area are "intense," and hoping to round up a little support from influential Americans like President Obama and, of course, Nick Jonas. A reminder... just don't use a school laptop to do it.

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