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School Spying on Kids in Their Homes

By Hannah Tennant-Moore |

lower-merion-high-school-300x225Think of just one thing you did in your bedroom yesterday that you wouldn’t want anyone else, except maybe your spouse, to see. Now imagine that you found out that your boss and all of your coworkers had the ability to see into your bedroom from the comfort of their own homes at any time, without your knowledge.

Let’s exactly what’s going on in a Philadelphia suburb, except the people being spied on are minors and the peeping toms are their educators. Has your head exploded yet?

High school student Blake Robbins and his parents have filed suit against the Lower Merion School District for violating a bevy of privacy laws, including the Electronic Communications Privacy Act and the Fourth Amendment. Blake was one of about 1,800 students to receive a laptop from the district. The webcam-equipped computers were paid for by state and federal grants and intended, naturally enough, to help students remain engaged with their coursework outside of the classroom.

According to the lawsuit, the district failed to tell parents that these laptops were also monitoring devices–that is, the school district has the ability to remotely activate the webcams at any time, taking a peek into the private homes of students. Imagine Blake’s shock when an assistant principal approached him and accused him of engaging in “improper behavior” the night before–in his own home.

One hates to imagine what that “improper behavior” might have consisted of, considering that the 15-year-old  was in his bedroom and believed he was alone. Fortunately for him, his transgression was nothing more serious than eating candy–which the assistant principal believed were drugs. After all, Mike and Ikes ARE brightly colored and oblong.

Since Blake’s parents filed suit for violating their son’s privacy, the district has claimed that they only activated the cameras on laptops that were reported missing or stolen. They have kept mum, however, as to whether Blake’s computer had been reported lost and as to how many other students have been spied on by administrators.

According to Lillie Coney of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, there is absolutely no justification for putting monitoring equipment on any school-issued computer. That is a system that is ripe for abuse by not only by overzealous administrators like the assistant principal, but by predators. “If [the computer is] lost, believe me, they are going to hold the parents responsible for replacing it. If it’s stolen, they have insurance to replace it,” Coney said. “They’re not law enforcement. They are not in the business of conducting surveillance or investigative efforts beyond anything that happens within that school.”

Judging from the public outcry, Lower Merion parents tend to agree with Coney–which is no surprise. Even the strictest parent does not want their child’s school to act as Big Brother. Although it remains to be seen whether the court will find the district guilty of violating any federal laws, it seems clear that no one will argue too strongly for keeping the monitoring system in place.

Photo: America’s Right

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Hannah Tennant-Moore

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6 thoughts on “School Spying on Kids in Their Homes

  1. patricia says:

    Apparently too, if kids tried to hack the computer to disable the webcam, that would be ground for expulsion, plus the school lied to the kids who noticed the webcam’s light blinking- they told them it was a “glitch” and to ignore it. The kids were not allowed to use personal laptops- they were required to use the school-issued ones. I’m glad you picked up on this story- I think the district is in big trouble over this. As it should be.

  2. squeakyfrommage says:

    It’s “Lower Merion” not “Lower Meridion”, there is no town named Lower Meridion in Pennsylvania. Basic fact checking would be nice.

  3. GP says:

    Beware free stuff from the institutions! This is just nuts. Reminds me of how my dad said he got in trouble for smoking a cigarette on his own front porch when he was in highschool and one of the priests/teachers walked by. I’m against smoking, but defend the rights of people to do so in their own homes (or on their porches). This is outrageous!

  4. GP says:

    Wow…and I just now read that they were REQUIRED to use these laptops! Yikes! Insane!

  5. [...] of questionable ways this week. This latest innovation is not nearly as nefarious as schools using webcams to check up on students at home, but it does raise some serious ethical [...]

  6. Andrea says:

    @squeakykfrommage: Yikes, Meridion instead of Merion sounds like a pretty simple typo/mind slip mistake, not a Major Journalistic Indiscretion.

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