School Issued Laptops Spy On Students, Capture 56,000 Images

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The Lower Merion School District (LMSD) laptop spying saga continues to unfold.

District investigators have finished their investigation, concluding that web cameras were activated by school district employees about 80 times in the past two school years, capturing nearly 56,000 images of students, their homes and copies of the programs or files running on their screens.

Laptop Took Photos While Student Slept

The system was allegedly used by LMSD officials to track lost and stolen laptops. However, the lawsuit filed on behalf of Blake J. Robbins by his parents claims that the teen's school-issued laptop took photos of Robbins as he slept. Every time a picture was taken, it was fired off to network servers at the school district.

In fact, Robbins' family claims that the school district's records show that more than 400 photos and screen images were captured during the two weeks last fall. (Source:

Since the lawsuit was filed in February, district officials have acknowledged that theft-tracking software on the school-issued laptops was activated 42 times since September, and a number of times in the previous school year -- allegedly to retrieve lost or stolen computers.

Number of Students Photographed or Monitored Unknown

The school district stopped short of specifying how many students had been photographed or monitored, or how often. Thus, it's still unknown whether or not the Robbins' experience was unique or common.

The Robbins' lawyer has argued that neither Blake nor many of the other students whose laptop cameras were activated reported their laptops missing or stolen. According to the school district, an unspecified number of laptops, including Robbins', were tracked because students failed to return their computers or didn't pay a required $55 insurance fee.

Request to Track Laptops Loose, Disorganized

In at least five instances, school employees allowed the cameras to keep taking pictures for days or weeks after students found their missing laptops. Every 15 minutes the computers snapped pictures, firing nearly 13,000 images back to the school district servers. (Source:

A federal magistrate judge is expected to begin the process of arranging for parents whose children were photographed to privately view the photos this week.

It's suggested that the requests to track the laptops were loose and disorganized because there were no written policies or procedures in place. Only two school employees had the ability to turn on and off the tracking system built into the laptops. District investigators could not find evidence suggesting that those two employees activated the system without being asked.

The district's full report is due within the next two weeks.

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