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Privacy Compliance & Data Security Information on Data Breach Prevention and the Appropriate Response

Pennsylvania School District Sued After Allegedly Remotely Activating Student Laptop Webcam

Posted in Right to Privacy

 A complaint (PDF link) seeking class action status on behalf of all high school students at Harriton High School and Lower Merion High School (the “High Schools”) in the Lower Merion School District (the “School District”) in suburban Philadelphia was filed on February 16th.

Apparently, the School District maintains a program whereby all high school students at the High Schools are provided with a laptop in connection with their educational endeavors. Like most modern laptops, apparently these laptops include a webcam embedded in the laptop bezel.

The Complaint alleges that students and parents were never told that the School District (and its agents) have the ability (or would) to remotely activate the webcam. The Plaintiffs cite all documentation provided with the laptop and on the School District’s online resources as further support that they were never told of this remote activation/capture ability. Once activated, the School District can apparently then view and capture whatever is happening within the view of the webcam. Plaintiffs point out that this activity occurs regardless of whether anyone is sitting in front of the webcam, and captures the entire viewing area of the webcam.

The ability of the School District came to the attention of the plaintiffs when an Assistant Principal of one of the high schools accused the minor plaintiff of engaging in improper behavior in his home, the Complaint alleges. The Complaint also creates the impression that the Assistant Principal produced evidence of this alleged improper behavior by producing a photograph (presumably a screen shot) from the webcam, although the Complaint never actually states the foregoing.

The plaintiffs, a minor child and his parents, allege that their privacy was violated through the conduct of the School District pursuant to Sections 2511 and 2520 of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, Section 1030 of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, Section 2701 of the Stored Communication Act, Section 1983 of the Civil Rights Act, The Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution, the Pennsylvania Wiretapping and Electronic Surveillance Act and Pennsylvania common law.

No response has been filed by the School District, and is any response due at this time.

Robbins, et al. v. Lower Merion School District, et al. Complaint is here.