Vice-principal denies using laptop to spy on student

Lindy Matsko, the Harriton High School assistant vice principal named in Blake J. Robbins vs. Lower Merion School District as the school official who showed a student a photo taken covertly by his laptop's webcam during a disciplinary meeting, has strenuously denied that she ever spied on students using their laptops. She did not say whether the photo was captured covertly with Robbins's webcam.
Though Matsko did not say whether or not she used photos taken from Robbins' webcam for disciplinary reasons-- the incident which sparked the chain of events leading to the class action suit, she said she looks forward to the day that she can respond to the allegations without pending legal action getting in the way.

"I find the allegations and implications that I have or ever would engage in such conduct to be offensive, abhorrent, and outrageous," said Matsko.

Principal Accused in "WebcamGate": I'm No Spy (Thanks, hotdoughnutsnow!)

(Image: NBC)


  1. …she looks forward to the day that she can respond to the allegations without pending legal action getting in the way.

    I wonder how well that excuse works when students are called into the principal’s office.

    Q: “Your teacher claims that you flipped him the bird in class. Is this true?”
    A: “I look forward to the day when I can respond to that allegation without pending disciplinary action getting in the way.”

  2. I would like to hear your take on it too m’am. No matter how you fold it the school is screwed; they’re monitoring and policing home activities.

  3. Well..she wouldn’t have been giving a press conference looking all upset and having to defend herself if the laptops had no spyware in the first place.

    This is a good case that can set a precedent for schools to not spy on kids , specially at home.

    If the schools are worried about theft..put a GPS on the laptop and inform the authorities.

  4. I hate to judge people by how they look, particularly in stressful news conference photos, but the fact that she looks like a super villain is probably not going to help her case. Throw a black hood on her and she’s Empress Palpatine.

    It also doesn’t help that I had HORRIBLE assistant principals to deal with when I was in junior high and high school. That sort of stuff leaves a very lasting impression. I don’t find it easy to trust people in school administration, and I am sure I’m not alone in that.

    1. Just six words. Six.

      Thank you snig, I thought I was alone when I exclaimed “It’s the PM!” when I saw her picture.

    2. Snig @7:

      Yup. I had exactly the same vibe.

      I wonder if the press conference went like this:

      LM: “Hello. I’m Lindy Matsko.”

      PRESS: “We know who you are.”

  5. “strenuously denied that she ever spied on students using their laptops. She did not say whether the photo was captured covertly with Robbins’s webcam.”

    Careful wording, and deliberately so, I suspect.

    Assistant principals, for the most part, are not techies. Obviously she never used a webcam to spy on a student, one of the techies did it for her.

    Now, if she told the techie to do so, she can fry for all I care. Even if the techie brought the data to her, she loses major points for using the data, rather than crushing him like a bug for being an Orwellian freak.

    1. Scifijazznik, please keep misogynistic comments to yourself. Women don’t exist just to make you horny.

  6. There’s enormous pressure driving competent, wise people out of public education, so we’re left with a mass of the incompetent and malicious, and a precious few truly dedicated doing the best that the system permits, always embattled and undermined. It’s still possible that Matsko is one of the latter, assigned by a cowardly principle to be the one to harrass Robbins. Anyway it’s always the latter who are thrown under the bus when unfavorable attention comes.

    1. At the risk of offending someone (and/or being de-voweled):

      In my experience, graduate programs in education (which is where you go if you want to become a school principal, university president, etc.) are a joke. They tend to attract less qualified students*, the level of work those students produce is often rather poor, and the theory taught in their classrooms is often divorced from reality.


  7. Reluctant as I am to start defending any of the actions of this principal or others involved, I do think that we should all step back before we rush to judge and vilify (or crucify). Correct me if I’m wrong, but all we have right now is;

    1) the report of a kid who was disciplined because a picture that the principal had looked like he was popping pills when in fact he was eating Mike & Ikes

    2) the admission that the notebooks were configured so that they could be remotely accessed if they were stolen

    3) the admission that some 40 laptops were remotely accessed

    From these reports, it’s a stretch to assume that that the picture came from the “victim’s” laptop as a result of it being accessed remotely. I would say it’s much more likely that this picture was taken by the student and posted on his facebook page, probably with the caption “I am in ur internetz takin extazy!” or something, and for that he was disciplined (stupidly).

    I’d also like to remind the internet community that the remote use of a webcam to catch laptop thieves has proven to be pretty popular and well supported. I know it’s different when the owner remotely activates it than if the school district does, but still think that puts some perspective on it.

    1. Weatherman, don’t you think that if they got it from (e.g.) Facebook, they would’ve said, “actually, we got it from Facebook” by now?

    2. My preferred scenario:
      Kid borrows laptop from school to use at home; its disappearance is reported, and the tech activates its spycam.
      Kid: “These are yummy!”
      Techie: “Oh, noes! He’s taking drugs! I’ll have to tell the vice-principal!”
      V-P: “My lands, this is serious! I’ll have to talk to his parents!”
      Parents: “This is appalling! However did you find out?”
      and it all goes Coen Brothers, but with less shooting.

      1. agreed. while i’m unwilling to pass judgement till it comes out in the wash, i think this scenario is the most likely.

        ultimately, they should have disclosed that they have the silent-stillsnap capability for use in stolen equipment recovery upfront. although in some ways i can understand why they’d want to keep it quiet since it would be easily thwarted once it’s common knowledge that it exists.

        then again, maybe the vice-principal is totally guilty of abusing the system. if so, she deserves what she’s getting. i don’t, however, like premature internet mob vilification when all the facts have not yet been sorted. it’s like an internet trope, except it tends to stomp all over real people in the real word, often times when they don’t necessarily deserve it.

    3. You’re inventing putative evidence in order to get the vice-principal off the hook, Weatherman. If the facebook picture existed, then it would have been produced by now, or at the very least been mentioned. There’s no reason to keep it secret.

  8. that photo makes her look like she’s already realized that no matter what she says, it’s not gonna make a difference now.

  9. “I would say it’s much more likely that this picture was taken by the student and posted on his facebook page, probably with the caption “I am in ur internetz takin extazy!” or something, and for that he was disciplined (stupidly).”

    Why proceed with a lawsuit over the notebooks at all if they weren’t directly involved in the incident?

    1. Good question, and I for one would like to see this sorted out in court rather than just believe everything that one side says is true. There are too many reasons to lie on both sides to believe either.

  10. Its a 20 second fix if they have a legitimate argument. The picture obviously exists. So… was it taken from the webcam, or not? They’ve had months from the start of the lawsuit to determine if someone pulled it from facebook or other site.

    They lost the PR war already. There is a legitimate use for the application, but why would it even enter into this discussion? The laptop was not stolen. If you got the pic from another source, whatever lawyer is telling you to be quiet is doing more harm than good. This went from civil to criminal pretty fast and it will keep snowballing because the school system has yet to enter any reason to have such a pic.

      1. If it had been stolen the school presumably would have confronted the student with that crime rather than for consuming pill-shaped candies in the privacy of his own bedroom.

  11. I’m sorry but I saw her press conference on the local abc news here in philadelphia and I have to tell you the way she acted out with the faux rage and many little facial tells makes me think that she’s SOOO guilty of this and probably many more aggretious acts.

    I guess what do you have to lose going infront of camera’s when you are guilty anyway. I know most of us put in the same spot would be willing to go out and make a similar statement infront of camera’s if It means the possibility of throwing off the feds and avoiding federal charges.

  12. At least she doesn’t look like she’s slept a wink since the CA suit was filed. She *should* be losing sleep.

    weatherman: if you have a facebook account, look up this kid’s page. See if there’s any such photo. Please share with the class what you find (you know, to help out those of us who refuse to sign up).

  13. Matsko: It’s “offensive, abhorrent, and outrageous.”

    So, we all agree on the scope and scale of the wrongdoing.

    Now we just need to come to an agreement on the nature of that wrongdoing.

  14. From these reports, it’s a stretch to assume that that the picture came from the “victim’s” laptop as a result of it being accessed remotely. I would say it’s much more likely that this picture was taken by the student and posted on his facebook page, probably with the caption “I am in ur internetz takin extazy!” or something, and for that he was disciplined (stupidly).

    I don’t think it’s a stretch. And I think that if this were the case then the school would have immediately issued a statement saying “Just so you parents don’t completely freak out on us, the picture in question used to discipline the student was posted to Facebook and is not in any way tied to the fact that the laptops had this capability before we shut it off.” School districts are not that stupid when it comes to PR – any superintendent who isn’t a complete n00b knows how to do spin control.

    Now, what I suspect may be the case is that the assistant principal here didn’t know that the picture she was handed was taken in the kid’s house. She may have thought that the picture was snapped while the laptop was in school and it was only when his parents examined the picture that they realized it was his house. That’s a possibility. But the idea that a school district of any size wouldn’t have the capability to control the spin on a picture downloaded off of Facebook just stretches credibility to the breaking point. And also doesn’t contend with the fact that the district has now admitted that it had this capability and didn’t tell the parents, which is the real problem here. This capability should have been made known to the parents and the students (and if that foiled the effectiveness as an anti-theft tool, so be it – increase the required security deposit if it’s that important.)

  15. I’m wondering about this specific language in the suit:

    […]cited as evidence a photograph from the webcam embedded in minor Plaintiff’s personal laptop[…]

    “Embedded”? Could this be Legalese for “stored on”? Could the kid have been using Photo Booth or something, taken and saved some images using the webcam himself, and the school’s security wonks were “only” snooping through students’ files (to make sure it was being used for school purposes or whatever excuse)?

  16. Living in a school district about 25 minutes from Lower Merion, it is evident (even in my district) that there is so much being hidden in order to appear higher in state rankings. Chester County, Pennsylvania is a very wealthy county, so all these districts with all their money try to save their faces and try not to let anything reach the public. Fortunately, this case did and they are paying for it.

  17. Ma’am, SOMEONE in your administration did this act. The directive came from SOMEWHERE to install the spycam-ware on the laptops. The directive same from SOMEWHERE to take photos of the students and to sort through them to find evidence of improper behaviour.

    If the person responsible for these decisions is not you, then WHO DID IT? A name is needed.

  18. Snig, akbar56, high fives all around. Maybe all the laptop bugging is part of a greater Torchwood initiative?

  19. When I was in High School (lo, those many years ago) the Administration decided to withhold my diploma because of an editorial cartoon that I had submitted to a student underground paper.

    I called the ACLU. I recall the gentleman that I spoke with stated that “many high school administrations believe that their students’ rights end the moment they step onto school property.”

    I’m finding this whole story more and more believable. Also, I still don’t have my @$!!% High School Diploma.

  20. It is my understanding that the kid was chatting with a friend and was teasing said friend with the candy in a “hahaha look what I have. Don’t you wish you had some candy? hahaha.” That is the kid’s story anyway. It would also seem to lend credence to the claim that they don’t record audio because it would be so obvious that they weren’t talking about drugs. Recording audio is what would get them in trouble with federal wiretapping laws, video only not so much.

    1. Might make sense if the software used on the laptop didn’t disable the webcam. Admins were the only people who could use it.

  21. That photo wasn’t captured by the laptop camera! School officials would never allow that. The photo was taken the old-fashioned way, by a snoop outside the kid’s window.

  22. “I find the allegations and implications that I have or ever would engage in such conduct to be offensive, abhorrent, and outrageous,” said Matsko.

    Sure, lady, but who cares how you “find” the allegations. Are they TRUE?

  23. Being able to monitor a camera on a computer that could be in a kids room is way too risky. If they were ever caught with a picture of a kid disrobed, the cost and consequences would far out way anything they would gain. What with teens and parents getting into trouble for such photos, and in the UK, you have to be 18 to go through the “full body scan” for security checks.

    If government security takes a backseat to the risk, I can’t see how a school would have wanted to take the chance they would accidentally have a picture of a disrobed teen.

  24. Holy christ! Their vice principal is a zombie?

    No wonder she wanted to enhance their sweet, delicious brains with new laptops. And then watch their development.

  25. I love the way she seems to think that glowering and glaring while she emphasises certain words, and shows her anger and ‘outrage’ is going to somehow imbue her words with more credibility than if she just spoke them.

    For me, it does the opposite – it’s just hot air and puffing.

    What’s interesting is that, as far as I’m aware, SHE (grimace) hasn’t been accused of doing the pervy spying, which is what she spends her time denying. She’s accused of ENACTING (hateful-look) the policy of installing spyware on the computers, which was subsequently abused by SOMEONE ELSE (evil stare).

    In other words – everything she denies is at best irrelevant and at worst a distraction strategy (denial of something she obviously didn’t do that is related but is not the same as the thing she is actually accused of).

  26. Let me add some encouragement to go read the strydehax analysis. Very informative, and includes video of the school sysadmin boasting about the software’s capabilities, as well as the early reports of weird behaviour (including the cam light turning on and off) from students. In a later blog post, strydehax also gives info on how you can spot the software on your own network.

    Also this report by Julian Sanchez at Cato, which is where I got the stydehax link.

  27. Pennsyltucky: doing our part to drag down the whole nation when the midwest/south lags.
    Doesn’t PA law require notification before recording/taping someone? Case closed.

  28. It seems likely that the picture in question was likely still on the loner computer when it was returned. So the security service was not activated and they were simply came upon the data and reviewed it.

    or maybe they are spying bastards…

    Either way this woman seems evil.

  29. yeah I saw this live on 6abc philly too… Man she was SOOOO angry I thought she was going to pop a vessel in her head.

  30. OMG that expression is hilarious. This lady will never know how much laughter and mirth she has brought to the world.

  31. Calling a press conference and then glaring balefully around the room while hissing invective – priceless.

    Doesn’t she have people? In Southern California, everybody has people. They touch up your concealer and slip you a pill and tell you what to say on camera. The spy-cam story is now less interesting than her monumental PR fail.

  32. The kid must have been taking that dreaded Red Pill — you know, the one that makes you drop out of consensus reality and into reality proper.

  33. This statement (from the 2-19-2010 “Laptop Update” on the school district website is very interesting.

    “As I noted yesterday, this feature was limited to taking a still image of the computer user and an image of the desktop in order to help locate the reported missing, lost, or stolen computer (this includes tracking down a loaner computer that, against regulations, might be taken off campus).”

    The part in parenthesis “This includes tracking down a loaner computer” seems strongly to indicate that that is what they did in this case or at least are going to claim.”

    This would further support the notion that they DID get the photo from webcam activation within the student’s home.

    I’ve mentioned this several times, now, in these threads, and no-one is paying enough attention, merely continuing with old, outdated arguments.

    1. cmza, the reason why your observation is being ignored is because it would suggest the school may have done nothing wrong: if the laptop in question was not supposed to leave the school then whether or not the alleged image was captured in a student’s home is immaterial.

  34. The kid issued a reply as well:

    “We have no reason to doubt Ms Matsko’s statement that she did not personally activate the webcam on my computer, but that has never been the issue. The issue is that we know someone accessed my webcam and provided Ms. Matsko with a screenshot and a webcam picture of me in my bedroom,” Blake said.

    I like this kid a lot. I heard him interviewed on the radio last week and he did a standup job. Obviously smart and articulate, but not too snarky and precocious.

    From the radio interview, he said he had held up the candy in question to the camera in order to taunt a friend…as in “ha ha, I have candy” not in a “I haz extazy” sort of way, and I tend to believe him.

  35. My first thought on seeing this picture is that it’s a typical bad-guy shot. The photographer probably took a dozen and this was the most evil-looking one of them all. I’m sure she has a decent-looking picture somewhere… something less Palpatine-y.

  36. Am I the only person upset at the news agency for calling it “Webcamgate”? I mean seriously to me the concept of infected laptops being forced upon my children, where there is potential for any person to login to my child’s laptop, and view them at their discretion is a bigger deal than watergate was. Secondly must EVERYTHING be another watergate? Climategate, webcamgate, lord knows how many other “gates” we’ll have to suffer through the media shoving down our throats.

    How anyone could think something so perverted, and orwellian was okay. They obviously never read their science fiction literature.

  37. I think we need to take a moment to give thanks to the complete fuckups who tipped their hand, and who unintentionally blew this story open over the issue of a kid eating Mike & Ikes.

    If you want sooper sekret spy powers, you can’t use the information you’ve gathered as actual evidence.

    Which, actually, plays pretty well to the narrative that this was not so much Orwellian, as just clueless. The tech tries to maximize information gathering because more information must be better; the administrator is totally ignorant about WTF the tech is doing, but takes the tip from the tech, because drugs are bad, m’kay. . .

    The press conference looks similar to the rest of the student surveillance fiasco – unplanned & badly done.

    -unrelated- I agree with anon #64 that -gate as a scandalous suffix sucks, but disagree with the idea that this is worse than Nixon. I mean, Nixon was really pretty bad.

  38. “I find the allegations and implications that I have or ever would engage in such conduct to be offensive, abhorrent, and outrageous,” said Matsko.

    Yeah. And War is Peace, Ignorance is Strength, Freedom is Slavery and the typical authoritarian bluster that you bullshit your way through your career with is gonna get you off the hook this time.

  39. For some reason I am pulling for the school in this one. Obviously, I would like them to be punished if they are guilty, but I hope they are not. This is the plausible scenario I have constructed in my mind – possibly impacted by others’ conjectures that I have seen. None of the facts in the complaint or public statements from either side since contradict it. You tell me if this scenario is possible and I will tell you that is also likely.

    1. The kids takes a picture of himself using the camera in his school-issued laptop.
    2. Whether he posts it on his Facebook for the school administration to find, or the school retrieves it from his laptop when he is back on school premises, is largely immaterial. No privacy laws or public trust was violated. What’s on the school-owned laptop is property of the school. Probably figures prominently in the agreement that the kid or his parents signed without reading.
    3. The kid is informed that he is in trouble for what he is shown doing in the photo. Whether it is school’s business what the kid does at home (smokes pot, masturbates, surfs for porn, tortures kittens) is arguable, but that is not the point of the law suit and is just a side issue in the online discussion. My guess it was something serious (say, sex with a minor) that got his parents worried enough to come up with a law suit idea.
    4. When the parents turn the heat up on the school, Ms. Matsko ill-advisedly tells them that the school has ability to remotely activate the camera. My opinion is that she wanted to either impress or scare them, herself not being savvy either technically or legally of what she was talking about.
    5. The rest is more or less part of the public record.

    Am I missing anything?

  40. This is anon #69. Okay, I read the Wikipedia article and I now know about the “Mike and Ike” claim. So, presumably, the bad behavior the kid was suspected of was dealing and he claims it was candy, fine. I would, too. And my parents would have probably bought it, too.

    What caught my eye – aside form the mention of the plaintiff family history of legal and financial troubles – was the last (as of today) paragraph in the Wiki article:

    “In a statement Blake made to the press on February 24th, he emphasized that the case was neither about his vice principal’s misconduct nor his own, but about the undisclosed spying capabilities which the district covertly maintained.”

    Obviously, he has not read the complaint – or the headlines it has spurned.

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