This February, parents of Lower Marion high school students brought suit against the school district for covertly spying on students using the webcameras of school issued MacBooks. The LMSD said that the cameras, equipped with remote access software, were simply a security feature to be used in the case that the laptops were stolen or misplaced. Parents say that they were never informed about this possible use of the cameras, and that some were activated without the computer being reported lost. Michael and Holly Robbins found out about the cameras when pictures from their son’s computer were used as evidence in disciplinary action against him. Now comes the information that the webcams took “thousands” of secret pictures of students in their homes.
According to Philly.com, The school district has acknowledged that it turned on the software 45 times before parents found out about it. What the lawyer for the plaintiffs has allegedly uncovered, after going through “tens of thousands of pages of documents and e-mails the district turned over to him in recent weeks,” is that in those 45 times, “thousands of webcam pictures and screen shots have been taken of numerous other students in their homes,” including over 400 pictures of the Robbins’ son. The district said that it turned on his camera because his family had declined to pay a $55 “insurance fee.”
The plaintiffs’ latest filings detail exactly what the security software did. Once triggered, the next time the laptop was turned on, its webcamera took a picture of what was in front of it, a screenshot was captured of the desktop, and the “internet address” (presumably the IP) was logged. Every fifteen minutes thereafter, the webcamera would take another picture, until the computer was shut down. The process would start up again, when the computer was turned on. All of this information was sent to the school district’s network servers.
Back at district offices, the [plaintiffs’] motion says, employees with access to the images marveled at the tracking software. It was like a window into “a little LMSD soap opera,” a staffer is quoted as saying in an e-mail to Carol Cafiero, the administrator running the program.
“I know, I love it,” she is quoted as having replied.
Carol Cafiero, the LMSD information-systems coordinator and one of two people who had the authority to turn on the security software, has tried to stop subpoena’s calling for her testimony, and has repeatedly plead the Fifth instead of answering questions under oath.
“To each and every question I would ask her, other than her name, she asserted the Fifth, even after I told her that everybody else had come in and fully cooperated and provided complete testimony as to what took place,” said attorney [for the plaintiffs] Mark Haltzman.
While the lawsuit continues with a court date this coming Tuesday, federal and county officials are investigating whether the school district’s program broke any laws.