School Issued Laptops Bundled with Remote-Spy Cameras

Dennis Faas's picture

A recently filed 17-page lawsuit (PDF) alleges that laptops issued to high-school students in a Pennsylvania suburb feature webcams used by school administrators to invade the privacy of almost 1,800 students and their families. (Source:

According to the parents in Blake J Robbins v. Lower Merion School District (LMSD), the issue was discovered last November when the Robbins' child was disciplined for 'improper behavior at his home' and a photo taken by the webcam was used by the Assistant Principal as evidence. The activity the student was engaged in is not specified in the lawsuit. (Source:

The Assistant Principal verified that the LMSD had the ability to remotely activate the webcam built into the laptops that were issued to each of the students at any time it chose to view and capture whatever images were in front of the webcam, all without prior knowledge, permission or authorization from anyone using the laptop.

Class Action Suit Filed by Students, Families

Robbins filed a class action suit (PDF) on behalf of all the students that were issued those laptops. The suit extends to other household members and their guests because the webcam captures images of anything within its range.

The suit alleges that LMSD et al. violated the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, the Computer Fraud Abuse Act, the Stored Communications Act, the Civil Rights Act, the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, the Pennsylvania Wiretapping and Electronic Surveillance Act, and Pennsylvania Common Law. (Source:

Students Issued Laptops with Remote Spy Camera

According to the lawsuit, almost 1,800 students in the district's two high schools were issued a laptop purchased in part through state and federal grants. It goes on to note that all the written documentation accompanying the laptops made no reference to the district's ability to activate the embedded webcam remotely.

The abuse of privacy could be a major issue if those allegations are proven. The idea that a school district using those laptops for spying on you at home -- in addition to spying on the students' Internet browsing and emails -- is extremely disturbing.

Recently, LMSD responded to the allegations by saying that a security feature intended to track lost, stolen and missing laptops has been deactivated and that the school district is dedicated to protecting and promoting student privacy. (Source:

In the response, LMSD listed four questions and answers to help explain the initial decision to install the tracking-security feature, and apparently from here on out, the feature will not be reactivated without express written notification to all students and their families.

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