An interesting development in the Lower Marion School District surveillance case.

22 August 2010

For a couple of months now I've been following the Lower Marion High School laptop surveillance case in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. If the story's been dropped from your cache for whatever reason, earlier this year it was discovered that a school district in the vicinity of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania was using the laptops it issued to students to spy on them while they were off-campus. As it turned out some of the staff had been remotely activating the built-in webcams and using them to watch students. A cache of images taken through the webcams was found on some of their servers, some depicting underage high school students in various states of (un)dress... which should be enough to send a shiver down anyone's spine if you think about it for a second.

A couple of days ago federal prosecutors decided that there was insufficient evidence to bring charges against either the school district or the members of the IT staff in question. Their investigation did not reveal any signs of criminal intent said Zane Memeger, US Attorney. As things stand there was not enough information to suggest that anyone was up to moustache-twirling, mad cackling no good, though the parents of the student in question still have a lawsuit pending against the school district on the grounds of invasion of privacy. It is thought that the decision to not file criminal charges will not adversely affect the civil suit filed by the family of Blake Robbins, the high school student reprimanded in school for eating candy at home. Personally, I would have thought that getting caught taking photographs of partially undressed underage students (remember - the spyware installed on the laptops had to be commanded by someone logged into a server in the high school to turn on the camera, turn off the "Hi, I'm recording" LED, and take pictures) would have been sufficient, but I'm not a lawyer and I don't play one anywhere, either. I don't mind saying that this decision concerns me; when on school property students are the responsibility of the staff and are subject to surveillance and disciplinary measures if they get out of line. However, when they go home they are the responsibility of their parents and the control the school has over them ends there, or at least it used to. I have to admit I don't know what the legal code says about that and I'm very interested in hearing from anyone who knows for sure and can quote links to repost.

I have a suspicion that this case is going to set a legal precedent, the impact of which we'll be feeling for years to come. I just don't know which way it's going to go.