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Time Out: Admin Leave for 2 in School Webcam Case

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By Tanya Roth, Esq. on March 08, 2010 12:15 PM

A new development in the ongoing Pennsylvania school spying by webcam case previously covered in this blog came on Friday. Two technicians with the embattled Lower Merion School District were reportedly placed on administrative leave. According to a statement from the school district, "Placing them [Technician Michael Perbix and systems coordinator Carol Cafiero] on administrative leave with pay is not a reflection of any wrongdoing on their part. It is a standard, prudent step in an investigation such as this one," the district said in a statement Friday, confirming a report by the Philadelphia Enquirer.

Philly.com reports the two IT employees were the only two authorized to activate the webcams according to their lawyers. Once activated, the webcam software took photographs of the user and screen shots every 15 minutes the computer was in use. Privacy experts say there are far less intrusive ways to track lost laptops. The FBI is currently investigating and questioning the two and others in the on-going webcam case.

Cafiero's attorney, Charles Mandracchia shifts the burden for the understanding of privacy issues to the school administrators. "The people that should have been trained in the privacy (issues) should have been in the administration, not necessarily my [client], whose only job was to turn it on," Mandracchia said.

As an additional note, Philly.com reports a growing movement within the parents of the school district to refuse to sign on to the class action filed by original plaintiffs, student Blake Robbins and his parents. The area parents are understandably angry about the webcam case disaster, but also concerned about the financial impact on the district of a class action settlement.

"It's hard to believe that this happened, especially in this school district, which is populated probably by a higher proportion of lawyers than any school district in the country. It's pretty mind-boggling," said lawyer Larry Silver of Narberth, an organizer of the anti-lawsuit group whose daughter attends one of the Lower Merion schools. With the clear eyes of hindsight, it's a shame the school district didn't pick any one of those many, many attorneys for a bit of free legal advice before turning on the first of those webcams. 

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