Tort Law

School District Snapped 56,000 Images on Student Webcams


An upscale suburban Philadelphia school district accused of secretly snapping photos of high school students at home via webcams on their district-issued laptop computers has completed an investigation.

And it apparently supports at least some of the claims made in a federal lawsuit filed by the parents of one sophomore. The district says school officials remotely activated the webcams 146 times, snapping a total of nearly 56,000 images, reports the Philadelphia Inquirer.

While many of the records could not be recovered, images found included photos of students, at least some photos inside their homes and screen shots showing programs or files, investigators state. Most of the time, technicians turned on the webcam when a laptop was reported lost or stolen and then turned it off when the machine was found. In some cases, however, the webcam wasn’t turned off and simply kept snapping a new image every 15 minutes, accounting for some 13,000 of the total tally, according to the newspaper.

Partner Henry Hockeimer Jr. of Ballard Spahr represents the district. He described these ongoing activations after a laptop was located as a “significant mistake,” since the photos were taken in students’ homes without their consent, the Inquirer reports. However, he also says the images weren’t inappropriate and says that the vast majority of the tally were taken when the webcams were being used as intended.

Some 38,500 images are attributed to laptops reported lost or stolen that weren’t recovered for six months, the Inquirer reports.

Attorney Mark Haltzman, who represents the parents of Harriton High School student Blake Robbins, says more than 400 photos were taken of the sophomore, some showing him shirtless and asleep in bed.

A big part of the problem, Hockeimer and a parents group representative agree, was that the district never had a specific program in place for activating the webcams and they are eager to see one developed.

“The whole situation was riddled with the problem of not having any written policies and procedures in place,” says Hockeimer.

Earlier coverage:

ABAJournal.com: “Filing: School District Took Thousands of Pics of Students at Home Via Laptop Webcams”

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