FBI investigating Lower Merion School District over laptop spying (plus a commemorative tee)

The FBI has opened an investigation into the PA's Lower Merion School Board use of covert webcam software to spy on its students. And someone's made a t-shirt to commemorate the event.
The FBI and a Philadelphia-area prosecutor are looking into whether a school district broke the law when it remotely activated cameras on school-owned laptops and watched students in their homes.
Pa. School Faces FBI Probe, Lawsuit, for Using Webcams on Laptops to Watch Students at Home (Thanks, Xeni!)


  1. Holy HAL9000 – I’m that “someone” that made that t-shirt. Ha ha, I am a graphic designer and made it as a sort of inside joke between sci-fi nerds – THANK YOU Boing-Boing for making my day!
    Stephanie Yuhas

  2. Lower Merion = school of surveillance hell.
    Port Meirion = where The Prisoner was filmed.

    Coincidence? I think not!

  3. Attention Lower Merion SD staff responsible for this: I hope you enjoy the fact that you didn’t think your cunning plan through.

    However, can we maybe avoid involving insinuations of pedophilia in this situation, unless it turns out that there actually are materials of that type? The school district is being investigated by the FBI and there are clearly some massive spying schenanigans here, and it may very well be that someone’s been taking pictures even more inappropriately than has been already revealed, but crying pedophile in a crowded theatre without any substantiation is just going to drag the conversation down to dank troll pits. Nail them on the facts, and if the facts turn out to include teenage ass on school district computers, so be it.

    1. I think most posters are using the pedophile argument because we know that minors do not enjoy the same rights as adult citizens, so arguments regarding privacy and school property, for example, won’t hold up in court. Child porn accusations, with the photos to prove it, are much more likely to result in convictions.

      Kind of like how Al Capone was finally convicted…of tax evasion.

  4. I’m sure the school district lawyers will stomp out this fire well enough with promises to review their policies, treat this matter with the utmost importance and promises to never do this again.

    Now if anyone else had been caught spying on students with some means even remotely similar, we would be hanging them from the nearest courthouse tower, wives of congressmen would be all aflutter. I hope this is not swept under the rug in the name of higher education.

    the next question is, where else is this happening? This school district can’t be the only one with this sort of software. School districts do not act alone.

  5. I’m sorry it needs to be discussed but… pedophilia is a real concern here.

    Anyone who thinks for more than a few seconds can foresee that the laptops will likely be in kids bedrooms. It’s also easy to foresee that children will be disrobed there. What appears to be here is an environment that is ripe for abuse. They have set up an environment that enables or even encourages abuse. If you are not familiar with the results of power without oversight, I recommend some quick research.

    So YES, pedophilia is an issue, an issue that should have been easily foreseen.

  6. The FBI?

    They are probably pissed that someone, other than they, are doing this…blowing their cover, so to speak.

    “They can do that?!”
    To anything connected to the internet.
    Any “government only” back-doors in those commercial – or open – OS’s ? No?

    Is that knowledge, or faith, speaking?

    I do understand that if the “authorities” won’t be using the secretly-obtained info from such spying as evidence in a Court of Law – as the School Board did in this case (The FBI and other spies wouldn’t make that mistake – and with the USSC actively seeking to overturn precedents with which they personally disagree, even this very limited protection of privacy is not to be relied upon) there’s nothing at all to prevent “them” from operating in this manner.

    OT PS: Watch as this Supreme Court in future overturns those Court decisions which “opened the door” to legal porno. (See the Appeals Court decision in Max Hardcore’s case: The “governing standard”, they say, is that of the MOST STRICT community which may access the info.) They would seek to limit the content of publicly accessible internet sites to those suitable to a five-year old. Just like broadcast TV, or indeed all media, prior to the overturning of American Obscenity laws – by the Supreme Court.

    That’s the problem with Judges making law: the law changes with the politics of the members of the Bench. But these right-wing judges are way way more “activist” than anything you guys have seen.
    They will legalize torture, if they can find a way. Cheney is a personal friend of theirs, after all!

    IIRC, Scalia opined in a public interview that ‘it is absurd to outlaw torture”. Wonder how GWB’s picked judges will rule on torture? I do not.

  7. hey wardish I guess this is a-ok if the targets are adults,

    BS we all deserve privacy in our own homes.

    1. “Ugly Canuck • #9 • 06:50 on Tue, Feb.23 • Reply

      hey wardish I guess this is a-ok if the targets are adults,

      BS we all deserve privacy in our own homes.”

      *chuckle* Not sure how you got that from my post. The post was child centric because the story is.

      On a personal basis, I’m more than aware of privacy issues and if up to me the government or any other entity would have to ask nice for any information about me as well as provide and be limited to a detailed description to which my info would be used. This would include any information about me obtained, by whatever means, from any other source.

      However being a realist, I and I would advise others to never type into a computer anything you wouldn’t be comfortable telling a judge. To many technological and legal loopholes.

  8. It’s illegal to photograph someone’s private parts in private without their permission:


    … so, all anyone has to do it flash their private parts (or a centerfold-spread) in front of their computer’s camera, then the the so-called “legit spyers” are breaking the law if they continue to use the camera.

    Now show me a company or school that can get away with a unilateral contract that students or employees have to sign in order to use the laptop with camera saying that they pre-permit the school or employer to photograph the student’s or employee’s private parts in private so the school or employer can spy on the student or employee with impunity. “Sing here to give anyone on our staff permission to watch you or your children nude at home in private …”

    We gathered together to make a more perfect union for the people, of the people, by the people. Expecting someone to give up their privacy just to get a public education or to get and keep a job is inappropriate in any “land of the free”.

    However, with the current supreme court declaring corporations as first class citizens, effectively making the rest of us second class citizens, I guess we get what we paid for. Unless Obama is willing to stuff the supreme court with more than 9 justices, I doubt we’ll see personal, real-human freedoms and civil rights come to front and center for a long, long time.

  9. I read a couple years ago about a woman who was being spied on by hackers via her webcam. It makes me paranoid. Sometimes I see my laptop’s webcam light blink randomly and I freak out. I put tape over it.
    Am I being paranoid? Does anyone have any tips for me and other neurotic privacy freaks? How would I ever know if someone were spying on me?
    I didn’t even want the damn webcam, but it came with my laptop upgrade. Now I have something else to worry about.

  10. Just wait for a log to come up indicting a kid on bomb-making or other subversive behavior to be gained from this. Suddenly the spying will be heavily endorsed and common practice by every school district.

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