Philadelphia School District Accused of Invading Student Privacy

webcamEach year the Lower Merion School District in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania distributes Macintosh laptops to 2,300 students who attend two of their county’s high schools, at a cost of $2,300,000.

According to reports, when laptops went missing technology coordinator Carol Cafierro and technician Michael Perbix created a plan to activate the web cams in the missing laptops to capture pictures of the students who had the laptops in their possession. Once activated, via a LANrev software program, the web cams would take a photo every 15 seconds, without the students’ knowledge.

However, Mark Haltzman, the attorney who filed a lawsuit on behalf of two boys whose photos were taken, said “thousands of webcam pictures and screen shots have been taken of numerous other students in their homes, many of which never reported their laptops lost or missing.”

Haltzman also claims that student name mix-ups caused the wrong student’s laptop to be activated, thus resulting in an invasion of privacy.

The report also claims the laptops captured screen shots of the student’s instant messaging conversations, photos of the boys partially undressed and sleeping in their beds. Cafiero’s lawyer reportedly has stated his client did nothing wrong. Presently Cafiero and Perbix are on paid administrative leave because of the investigation.

As a result, U.S. Senator Arlen Spector has introduced a bill that treats video surveillance similarly to electronic communication under the Federal Wiretap Act.

Spector’s co-sponsor, Senator Russ Feingold, released a statement saying, “citizens should not have to fear that cameras on their cell phones or computers will be used in their homes without their knowledge to invade their privacy rights.”

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