The Lower Merion School District has agreed not to delete any information from school-issued notebook computers in the wake of allegations they were spying on students.
Attorneys for those represented in a class action lawsuit accusing school officials of spying on students in their homes went before a federal judge Monday to petition that the computer hard drives be kept in their current state.
Mark Haltzman, the lawyer for 16-year-old Harriton High School student Blake Robbins, his family, and other students, said the district intended to wipe the computers.
"Defendants intend to reclaim each laptop from the possession of members of the class for the purpose of wiping clean the hard drive or otherwise engaging in the spoliation of evidence," Haltzman wrote in the emergency petition.
In the lawsuit filed Feb. 11, Robbins alleges that school administrators remotely activated the webcam on the school-issued laptop and took photos of him in his home holding pill-shaped objects. Robbins said that an assistant principal later used the photos to show that the teen was engaged in “improper behavior.”
The FBI is now investigating whether the district broke federal wiretap and computer use laws.
The webcam system in question, when triggered, would snap as many as 20 photos of whoever was using a computer or visibly in the vicinity of the laptop, according to a 2008 training video hosted by a Lower Merion School District network administrator.
"The feature works fantastic," the man said on in the video. NBC Philadelphia attempted to contact the man in the video, but he decined comment.
Legality of the alleged webcam use aside, Robbins and his family claim the item the teen was holding were Mike-N-Ike candies.
While the school district has admitted that it never told parents or students of the remote access feature, district superintendent Christopher McGinley stated on the district Web site Friday that, “At no time did any high school administrator have the ability or actually access the security- tracking software.”
McGinley said that the remote Web cam activation only took place in the 2009-10 school year to locate 42 missing or lost laptops. Officials say they have now abandoned the practice.
In a statement Sunday, district lawyer Henry E. Hockeimer Jr. said his law firm will investigate the facts and report its findings to the board. If any mistakes were made, the law firm will make recommendations for policy changes, Hockeimer said.