School Avoids Charges In Web Cam Spy Case

The Lower Merion School District in Pennsylvania took photos of students without their knowledge using web cams in school-issued laptops, but the U.S. Attorney investigating the case says there was no evidence of criminal intent.

Antone Gonsalves

August 18, 2010

2 Min Read
Network Computing logo

Mistakes were likely made, but a Pennsylvania school district that took thousands of pictures of students using the web cams on school-issued laptops did not commit any crimes. That's the conclusion of U.S. Attorney Zane David Memeger, who led a criminal investigation of the Lower Merion School District, which still faces two federal lawsuits.

"For the government to prosecute a criminal case, it must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the person charged acted with criminal intent," Memeger said in a statement released Tuesday. "We have not found evidence that would establish beyond a reasonable doubt that anyone involved had criminal intent."

Memeger said he wanted to put the criminal side of the matter to rest before the school year, but the district will still have to contend with two invasion-of-privacy lawsuits filed by students.

The case started in February when Michael E. Robbins and Holly S. Robins sued the elite Montgomery County district on behalf of their son Blake Robbins. The complaint said the couple learned that the district was monitoring their son when Lindy Matsko, assistant principal of Harriton High School, told Blake Robbins that the district believed he "was engaged in improper behavior in his home, and cited as evidence a photograph from the Web cam embedded in [his] personal laptop issued by the school district."

Michael Robbins later verified that the district had the ability to remotely capture images using the Web cam at any time, without the knowledge or consent of the user, the lawsuit said.

A subsequent investigation found nearly 58,000 web cam photos and screen shots in the district's databases, the Philadelphia Daily News reported. Some of the images included photos of Blake Robbins sleeping and partially undressed. In addition, there were screenshots of the teenager participating in video chats with friends.

The school district's internal investigation found no evidence that employees were spying on students, the newspaper said. However, despite knowing that Blake Robbins had the laptop in his possession, they activated the tracking software and left it running for two weeks.

The school board has tightened policies governing the use of technology in light of the scandal. The board this week prohibited school employees from remotely accessing students' computers without the permission of students or parents, the Daily News reported.


-- School Allegedly Spied On Kids In Their Homes

-- Business Technology: Let Common Sense Guide Privacy Rules

Stay informed! Sign up to get expert advice and insight delivered direct to your inbox

You May Also Like

More Insights