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Harriton High School Used Laptop Webcams To SPY On Students At Home, Suit Alleges

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UPDATE 2/19/2010 6:14 PM ET: The Associated Press reports that the FBI is investigating the Lower Merion School District over allegations that a high school in the school district spied on students through their laptop webcams.

The official, speaking to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity, says the FBI will explore whether Lower Merion School District officials broke any federal wiretap or computer-intrusion laws.

Lower Merion officials say they remotely activated webcams 42 times to find missing student laptops in the past 14 months, but never did so to spy on students, as a recent lawsuit claims.

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UPDATE 2/19/2010 1:16PM ET: The Lower Merion School District has posted a response to the allegations that Harriton High School invaded students' privacy by spying on them with laptop webcams.

The LMSD statement acknowledges that the computers contain a 'security' device:

The District is dedicated to protecting and promoting student privacy. The laptops do contain a security feature intended to track lost, stolen and missing laptops. This feature has been deactivated effective today.

According to the LMSD response, the security feature was intended to track stolen laptops:

Upon a report of a suspected lost, stolen or missing laptop, the feature was activated by the District's security and technology departments. The tracking-security feature was limited to taking a still image of the operator and the operator's screen. This feature has only been used for the limited purpose of locating a lost, stolen or missing laptop. The District has not used the tracking feature or web cam for any other purpose or in any other manner whatsoever.

Read the full statement here.

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) - A federal lawsuit accuses a suburban Philadelphia school district of spying on students at home through school-issued laptop webcams.

The suit says Lower Merion School District officials can activate the webcams remotely without students' knowledge. The lawsuit alleges the cameras captured images of Harriton High School students and their families as they undressed and in other compromising situations.

Families learned of the alleged webcam images when an assistant principal spoke to a student about inappropriate behavior at home.

Boing Boing reports that according to details included in the Blake J Robbins v Lower Merion School District filings, 'The issue came to light when the Robbins's child was disciplined for "improper behavior in his home" and the Vice Principal used a photo taken by the webcam as evidence. '

Superintendent Christopher W. McGinley did not immediately return a message left by The Associated Press.

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