WebcamGate Teen: "I Hope They're Not Watching Me"

High school student who was allegedly spied on by administrators speaks out

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    NEWSLETTERS

    The teen in the middle of a webcam spying controversy says he hopes the school still isn't watching him. (Published Friday, Feb 19, 2010)

    The teen who's at the center of a lawsuit claiming that his school spied on him at home via a webcam says he's still using the school-issued notebook computer and just hopes "that they're not watching" him.

    Blake Robbins, a Harriton High School sophomore, says Assistant Principal Lindy Matsko confronted him in Nov. 2009 for engaging in "improper behavior" at his home.

    WebcamGate Family's Attorney: "Who Has Access"

    [PHI] WebcamGate Family's Attorney: "Who Has Access"
    The attorney representing the teen who allegedly was spied on by his school via his webcam. (Published Wednesday, Feb 24, 2010)

    The 16-year-old from Penn Valley, Pa. claims Matsko showed him photos remotely taken with the built-in webcam on his MacBook, according to the suit.

    In the photos, the teen was allegedly holding two pill-shaped objects, says Robbins' attorney Mark Haltzman. School officials believed they were drugs, while the family maintains they were simply Mike-N-Ike candy.

    "They were trying to allege that…those were pills and somehow he was involved in selling drugs," Halzman said Friday.

    When the family protested the webcam use as an invasion of privacy, the district claimed they had the right to "24/7 access" to the systems, the suit says.

    This chain of events led the Robbins family to file a class action lawsuit on Feb. 11 on behalf of Blake and 1,800 other Lower Merion School District students who possess the computers.

    "I think that they just have to stop doing what they did," Blake said Friday night. "It's terrible."

    The Lower Merion School District admits they never told students or their parents about the remote access feature, but say it has only been used to find lost or stolen computers.

    The webcams were activated 42 times in the past 14 months to find lost or stolen computers and the feature has since been disabled, officials said.

    But that action has done little to assuage the fears of Blake's family.

    "We're really upset," said Michael Robbins, the teen's dad. "It's not conduct you'd expect from a school district."

    The district maintains it never used the cameras to spy on its students, but a statement by a district spokesperson is raising questions.

    Only two IT department employees were authorized to turn the cameras on, spokesperson Doug Young told the Associated Press. So now, many are wondering how Matsko allegedly got access.

    "Who has access to these pictures and what's happening with those pictures and who's making the decisions," said Halzman.

    Lower Merion School District Supt. Dr. Christopher McGinley issued a new statement late Friday night saying that they will remain open about the situation, but can't immediately comment on everything.

    While we were able to address many of your initial questions and concerns, I regret we were not immediately in a position to answer all of your questions. Our goal is to be as open as possible, while preserving student privacy, and ensure that over time we have answered to your satisfaction every question about this situation and the broader issue of technology and privacy.

    If the allegations of spying prove to be true, Blake may not be the only victim. Other students claim they've seen their webcam go live while off school grounds and worry they've been spied on too.

    “Occasionally a green light would go on, on your computer which would kind of give you the feeling that somebody’s watching you,” Harriton High School student Drew Scheier told NBC Philadelphia Thursday.

    The teen says he never expected the case -- which has been dubbed by students as WebcamGate -- to blow up like it has, but admits that his attorney's predictions of the high-interest nature of the story were "correct."

    The FBI has launched a criminal investigation into the spying allegations to determine if the school district broke federal wiretap or computer-intrusion laws.

    The Montgomery County D.A. is also looking into whether charges are warranted.