Internet Law

Student Warned Defendant School Dist. in '08 of Potential Webcam Privacy Peril

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In 2008, as a suburban Philadelphia school district was beginning a noble experiment intended to guarantee that every student had access to a state-of-the-art computer, a high school student saw a potential problem.

Lower Merion School District would have the ability to monitor students remotely, via the laptops’ webcams, and “I could see not informing parents and students of this fact causing a huge uproar,” the unidentified teen said in an e-mail reviewed by the Philadelphia Inquirer.

In response, information systems director Virginia DiMedio told him he should “take a breath and relax,” the newspaper recounts. The district is not “a police state” and had no intention of monitoring students at home, she e-mailed back.

In fact, as it now appears, the district did at least inadvertently monitor some students at home, admittedly snapping tens of thousands of shots from laptop webcams after lost or stolen machines had been located and the monitoring function should have been turned off. Having spent some $550,000 in legal and investigative costs since another high school student’s family filed suit earlier this year and brought the situation to light, the district is providing more details about what exactly went wrong, the Inquirer reports in a subsequent article.

DiMedio, who retired last year, tells the Inquirer that she did nothing wrong personally, delegated oversight of the webcam function to others and simply didn’t think that privacy would be an issue. A Ballard Spahr partner representing the district has said that a privacy policy should have been in place but was not; DiMedio, however, says she remembers drafting a memo on the topic.

Earlier coverage: “Filing: School District Took Thousands of Pics of Students at Home Via Laptop Webcams” “School District Snapped 56,000 Images on Student Webcams”

Updated on May 4 to link to subsequent Inquirer coverage.

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