This time, life imitates art. In 2004, British artist Sam Taylor-Wood produced a video portrait of soccer legend David Beckham, peacefully asleep. In a eerily parallel scene, the on-going case against the Lower Merion School District for allegedly spying on students via webcams attached to school issued laptops produced in the latest court papers, similar pictures of one plaintiff, Blake Robbins, sound asleep.
The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that in the case of Robbins v. Lower Merion School District, plaintiffs' attorney Mark Haltzman combed through thousands of documents released to him by the school district during the course of discovery in preparation for trial. Among the documents were some relevant little gems, including the picture of Blake sleeping, as released to the Inquirer by the Robbins' attorney. According to this latest motion filed by the Robbins, this picture and many others were taken by the webcams which would snap a shot every 15 minutes from the time they were activated, until turned off.
The motion further claims that the school employees with access to the software and the pictures were delighted with the results. The Inquirer reports, "It was like a window into 'a little LMSD soap opera,' a staffer is quoted as saying in an e-mail to Carol Cafiero, the administrator running the program. 'I know, I love it,' she is quoted as having replied."
The plaintiffs' motion also seeks sanctions against Cafiero for not providing access to her home computer as requested by plaintiffs. The Robbinses allege that she might have downloaded some of the various student pictures to her home computer because she "may be a voyeur." Three school district employees have already given sworn depositions in the course of the suit. The Inquirer writes that Cafiero, however, has declined to answer Haltzman's questions, asserting her Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination.
The Robbins' court papers have shed some light on why the webcams were supposedly activated in the first place. Allegedly, a number of webcams were activated due to the students' failure to pay a required insurance fee, or return the computers. The Lower Merion District has said that the webcams were supposed to be utilized only to track computers reported lost or stolen. The district says it turned on the camera in Blake Robbins' computer because his family had not paid the $55 insurance fee and he was not authorized to take the laptop home.
The Inquirer also reports that late last week Senator Arlen Specter introduced legislation on the Senate floor to close a loophole in the federal law that did not directly prohibit this specific type of silent video surveillance. Specter would like to protect Americans in their homes from surveillance in part, because we get quite enough of it at the "ATM, at traffic lights, or in stores." Thank you, Senator.