Posted by: reformedmusings | April 20, 2010

It gets better in Lower Merion School District

I posted earlier on the soap opera-like saga of Lower Merion School District (LMSD) taking pictures of students in their homes through laptop webcams. Just when I thought we’d reached a plateau in the action, it got a lot better/worse depending on which side you’ve taken.

At first, LMSD said that they had used their remote webcam access 42 times. The word two days ago was that they had captured “thousands” of images. Today we found out that computer forensic specialists hired by the district had recovered over 56,000 images taken through the webcams. The school district is finally openly admitting to this now:

Lower Merion School District employees activated the web cameras and tracking software on laptops they gave to high school students about 80 times in the past two school years, snapping nearly 56,000 images that included photos of students, pictures inside their homes and copies of the programs or files running on their screens, district investigators have concluded.

And these were only the images that the investigators were able to recover. There were apparently many more that couldn’t be recovered. Also, these images are the ones to which the LMSD is willing to admit. If they have more interesting ones, I doubt that they’ll ever see the light of day unless…The US Attorney is trying to get the computers for his own analysis to support the FBI investigation:

And U.S. Attorney Michael Levy, in a letter sent Friday, asked the judge presiding over the Robbinses’ civil case to let FBI agents start analyzing the district’s computers and the photos they collected. U.S. District Judge Jan E. DuBois has previously ruled that only lawyers for the Robbinses and the schools should see such evidence.

While the district claims that none of the pictures taken in students’ homes are salacious, they will now show them to the parents of the affected students. Again, probably only the ones they want to show them. Unless the FBI gets immediate access to the host servers, any others will probably never see the light of day. The documented spying on additional students may widen the civil rights lawsuit which the originally affected family has filed. They should seriously consider that.

What about the folks responsible for all this? The lady most responsible has taken a 5th Amendment plea, but:

The Robbinses’ motion also asserted that the school official who ran the laptop-tracking program, Carol Cafiero, may have downloaded surveillance photos on her home computer and should be ordered to surrender it.

Cafiero’s lawyer, Charles Mandracchia, said Friday his client was eager to cooperate but first wanted to meet with the criminal investigators. An FBI agent plans to interview her Tuesday, he said.

Mandracchia also said Cafiero, who is on paid leave from her school post, never looked at or tried to look at any pictures of Robbins.

“Carol Cafiero did not look at any Blake Robbins pictures – not one,” Mandracchia said in an interview. “The only time she would ever go in [to the system] was if someone asked her to or directed her to – and it was only two or three times.”

Yep, I believe that. Don’t you? I mean, she’s only facing a life-changing civil rights case and possible criminal prosecution. Meanwhile, she gets a paid vacation. Yep, the district is really serious about this…

With new technology comes new capabilities. In civilized societies, those capabilities come with responsibilities. LMSD leadership and staff apparently missed that ethics class. They must be held accountable.

So, what is your kids’ school district doing that you don’t know about?

UPDATE: The IT coordinator now claims that at least one of the students on whom surreptitious pictures were taken had no rights:

Even in his own home, the Harriton High School sophomore had “no legitimate expectation of privacy” from the camera on his school-issued laptop, information systems coordinator Carol Cafiero contended in a court filing on Tuesday.

So, spying on and photographing children in their bedrooms is perfectly fine if you are the IS coordinator? An the one to whom she refers wasn’t the only one. What about the rest? The lack of conscience is appalling. Oh, and she’s still on a paid vacation at taxpayers’ expense.



  1. […] (LMSD) security nightmare/soap opera continues. To catch up, check out this post and this one. It’s hard to know where to […]

  2. […] it turned out that over 56,000 pictures were taken of multiple student in their homes and bedrooms. I’ve written on that previously. The mother of the original child […]

  3. […] students or parents of the ability to spy on them through the laptop. The IT staff then collected thousands of pictures of students from the webcams, including in their homes. One family and a graduated student sued the district, […]

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