In what appears to be a shocking case, a Philadelphia family has sued their school district for using webcams in school-issued laptops to spy on students and their families in their homes.
According to an article in the Seattle Times, the family discovered that webcam images had been taken from inside their home when the vice principal told child that school officials thought he had engaged in improper behavior at home. The vice principal “cited as evidence a photograph from the webcam embedded in minor plaintiff’s personal laptop issued by the school district,” according to the law suit. The vice principal later confirmed to the family that the school had the ability to activate the webcams remotely, according to the suit, which was filed Tuesday and which seeks class-action status.
The Lower Merion School District officials stated that the Apple laptops given to approximately 2,300 students in the districts two high schools “contain a security feature intended to track lost, stolen and missing laptops.”
The security feature was intended to only be activated “if there was a report that a computer was stolen. The next time a person opened it up, it would take their picture and give us their IP [Internet protocol] address, the location of where it was coming from” according to Virginia DiMedio, the school district’s technology director until she retired last summer.
She said that feature had been used several times to trace stolen laptops, but there had been no discussion of using that capability to monitor students’ behavior. “I can’t imagine anyone in the district did anything other than track stolen computers,” she said.
The class action lawsuit raises additional concerns about school-issued laptops, according to Kevin Bankston a senior staff attorney for the Electronic Freedom Foundation. “I’ve never heard of anything this egregious. Nobody would have imagined that schools would peer into students’ private homes and even bedrooms without any kind of justification.”
School officials said Thursday that the tracking feature was deactivated and would not be reactivated “without express written notification to all students and families.”
This case bears close scrutiny and gives reason for every family with a school laptop to question their school’s policies and remote access capabilities – and perhaps place tape over the webcam.