WebcamGate: District Failed to Preserve Privacy

Independent report finds administrators, IT staff were lax in operating feature, but didn't spy

An internal school district investigation into allegations that officials used webcams installed in student computers to track them found that not enough was done to preserve privacy.

In a 70-page independent report released at a school board meeting late Monday, attorneys for the Lower Merion School District said administrators and IT staffers were both at fault for not taking steps to set policies for how to properly track student computers.

The district has been embroiled in a spying controversy since Blake Robbins alleged officials used the webcam installed in his school-issued Apple Macbook to peer into his life.

In a class-action lawsuit filed in February, Robbins claims the district confronted him with photos from inside his bedroom. The Harriton High sophomore shared one of the alleged photos of him sleeping in bed with NBC Philadelphia last month.

"Without him, who knows what else would've happened in the future since they've admitted that there was nothing in place," Robbins' attorney Mark Haltzman said Monday.

More than 56,000 photos and screenshots were taken from 80 computers believed to be lost or stolen over a two year period using the remote tracking feature TheftTrack in the LANRev software. Mismanagement of the feature allowed it to be left enabled for long periods in some cases, the report confirms.

It also states TheftTrack was enabled on the 16-year-old's computer after his family failed to pay insurance fees on a loaner computer.

At the packed meeting Monday, Lower Merion superintendent Christopher McGinley apologized for the debacle that has earned nationwide attention.

A larger onus was placed on IT staffers for not warning administrators about the TheftTrack feature's abilities and their failure to disable the feature after the search for a computer was cancelled.

But administrators were also scolded for not asking questions about the system's capabilities or foreseeing possible privacy breaches.

While the report found mismanagement of the system, it also concluded that at no time did an employee purposely spy on a student.

"There is no evidence that the members of LMSD’s Board or top-level District  Administrators…knew how TheftTrack worked or understood that it could collect large quantities of webcam photographs or screenshots from unsuspecting students and their laptops."

The lawsuit is still being heard in federal court while the FBI continues to investigate.

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