Webcam spying school settles with students, pays $1.2M in fees and damages

Jon sez, "Back in February Lower Merion School District found themselves in a world of uncomfortableness when they got outed for remotely spying on their own students. [ed: Not just remotely spying; the district mandated that students had to use school-issued laptops running secret spyware that covertly activated the webcam to take thousands of still photos of students and their families on and off campus (including sleeping and undressed students). The spyware was designed to run without displaying any sign that the camera had been activated.] Now they've settled. Two of the student's got a payout - one to the tune of $175k. But the real winner, of course, are the lawyers who're walking away with more than three quarters of the settlement. Also, it seems the only reason the School District decided to settle now was that their insurer came to the party and cover the school's legal fees - otherwise they'd still be slugging it out in court. Way to go, District."

On the plus side, the District has abandoned its use of spyware.

"A major impetus behind settling this matter now is the recent agreement by our insurance carrier, Graphic Arts, to cover more than $1.2M of the fees and costs associated with this litigation to date," Lower Merion School Board President David Ebby said in a statement.

"Although we would have valued the opportunity to finally share an important, untold story in the courtroom, we recognize that in this case, a lengthy, costly trial would benefit no one," he said. "It would have been an unfair distraction for our students and staff and it would have cost taxpayers additional dollars that are better devoted to education. We also wanted to be sensitive to the welfare of the student involved in the case, given the possible ramifications of what would have been a highly-publicized trial."

According to the suit, the district gave high school students computers as part of a technology initiative, but did not notify families that the laptops were equipped with Webcams that could be turned on remotely. The Robbins family alleged they did not learn of the capability until school officials accused their son Blake of "improper behavior in his home" and cited a photograph from the Webcam embedded in the laptop as evidence.

School District Settles Webcam Spying Litigation

Motion for Sanctions (PDF)

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