Philadelphia School Sued for Using Laptop to Spy on Student
Last month, a suburban Philadelphia school district was accused of secretly spying on students at home with school-issued laptops.
Details were revealed after a 15-year-old student named Blake Robbins and his parents, Michael and Holly Robbins, filed a lawsuit against the Lower Merion School District.
Robbins, who attended Harriton High School, was summoned by his vice principal, Linda Matsko, after she claimed she had evidence that he was dealing drugs.
According to the lawsuit, Matsko told Robbins, "I've been watching what was on the webcam and saw what was in your hands. I've been reading what you've been typing and I'm afraid you are involved in drugs and trying to sell pills."
Apparently what Matsko mistook for pills were actually pieces of Mike and Ike candy.
In an interview with Democracy Now, a daily TV/radio news program, ACLU's Pennsylvania Legal Director Vic Walczak said the school district had admitted to accessing students' computers remotely.
"Apparently they claim they've done it forty-two times," he said. "This is equivalent of a principal sneaking into a kid's bedroom closet and peeking out whenever he or she wanted. It's hard for me to imagine that any parent would agree to this."
The FBI and the eastern Pennsylvania U.S. Attorney's Office are investigating the school district, while a judge has ordered the spying to stop.
The school district admitted in a statement that they had the ability to engage the cameras on laptop computers that were issued to 2,300 students from two high schools districts. The cameras were only supposed to be used to find missing or stolen laptops, they said.
Matsko said at a press conference, "At no point in time did I have the ability to access any webcam through security tracking software. At no time have I ever monitored a student via a laptop webcam," according to Democracy Now.
Shortly after Matsko's statement, Blake Robbins issued a statement of his own. "Miss Matsko does not deny that she has the webcam picture of me in my home, she only denies that she was the one who activated the webcam," said Robbins.
The school district later issued a statement via their Web site stating, "There was nothing to prevent students from covering their webcams with tape."
Perhaps the students would have done so if they had realized that the school district was compromising their privacy.
If the school district does not have a search warrant issued by a federal judge, spying on students is a clear privacy invasion under the Fourth Amendment. If the school wanted to use the cameras as anti-theft devices, they could have easily used a GPS tracking system.
What the school did was wrong, from both a legal and moral standpoint. The students were allowed to use these computers in their bedrooms so who knows how much administrators saw? These students were violated.
The district should face consequences. Every student who has been affected should be compensated for damages and faculty who participated and approved this type of monitoring should take leave without pay.