case of the Lower Merion school district in Philadelphia spying
on students in their homes via school issued laptops has gone
viral, with the FBI announcing that it has opened an investigation
into the matter.
As we reported
Friday, the district faces a class action lawsuit
after it allegedly issued laptop computers to 1,800 students
across two high schools and then used concealed cameras within
the machines to covertly monitor the behaviour of students and
In addition to charges of invasion of privacy, theft of private
information, and unlawful interception, the school district
has now become the focus of an FBI
probe, as well as an investigation by Montgomery
County District Attorney's Office.
An FBI spokesman, speaking anonymously, told
CNN it was investigating to see if wiretap or computer
intrusion laws had been broken.
Students from the school described the schools alleged actions
as "disgusting" and "a little scary".
"How do I trust this school district when they have done
something like this?" one parent asked.
Watch CNN's report below:
District Superintendent Christopher McGinley has issued a statement
rejecting the allegations:
"At no time did any high school administrator have the
ability or actually access the security- tracking software.
We believe that the administrator at Harriton (High School)
has been unfairly portrayed and unjustly attacked in connection
with her attempts to be supportive of a student and his family.
The district never did and never would use such tactics as a
basis for disciplinary action.”
However, according to the case against them, the evidence the
plaintiffs cite includes a warning from the school to Mr Michael
Robbins’ son Blake for “improper behavior in his
home,” with a photo school officials took from the remote
Mr Robbins and his family
have told reporters that an official mistook a
piece of candy for a pill and thought Blake was selling drugs.
Doug Young, spokesman for the Lower Merion District, told CNN
that the district would only remotely access a laptop if it
was reported lost, stolen or missing, a claim reiterated by
“While we understand the concerns, in every one of the
fewer than 50 instances in which the tracking software was used
this school year, its sole purpose was to try to track down
and locate a student's computer," he wrote. "While
certain rules for laptop use were spelled out - such as prohibitive
uses on and off school property - there was no explicit notification
that the laptop contained the security software. This notice
should have been given and we regret that was not done."
While the school district denies it ever used the tracking
software for anything other than looking for stolen computers,
it seems other schools across the country are actively using
the same or similar technology to monitor students.
The following clip is from PBS FRONTLINE: Digital Nation: Life
on the Virtual Frontier, broadcast earlier this month. The clip
is from segment 4 of the show titled Teaching with Technology.
It effectively demonstrates the technology that has caused
uproar in the Lower Merion case.
The Assistant Principal of the featured high school demonstrates
how he effectively spies on students by remotely accessing cameras
in their laptops. He monitors their activity and even takes
pictures of them, much to his own amusement:
As we reported over the weekend, the technology is not limited
to schools and students. Four years ago Google admitted that
it was implementing similar
invasive surveillance technologies that would target
It remains to be seen how effective an FBI investigation in
the case of Lower Merion will be, given that the computers in
question were provided via an initiative partially funded by