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Irate parents in Pa. say schools use 'Peeping Tom technology'

February 21, 2010 07:50 AM ET

On Friday, Christopher McGinley, the superintendent of Lower Merion, sent another letter to district parents, acknowledging that the district had turned on laptop cameras 42 times thus far in the 2009-2010 school year. As he had earlier in the week, McGinley again said that the webcams were activated only as part of an effort to locate stolen or missing machines. Just 18 of the missing MacBooks were recovered or found after the cameras were turned on.

McGinley also said that only two members of the district's technology department have access to the theft-recovery feature, and he expressly denied that the assistant principal who confronted Robbins was allowed to trigger the camera activation.

The district has hired the Philadelphia law firm Ballard Spahr LLP to represent it in the lawsuit, according to court documents. Henry Hockeimer, a partner with Ballard Spahr, will also help the district conduct a review of district policies and suggest improvements, said McGinley in his Friday letter to parents.

McGinley has admitted that students and parents were not told of the computer-tracking feature or its remote camera-activation capability. "There was no explicit notification that the laptop contained the security software," he said in his letter of Friday. "This notice should have been given and we regret that was not done."

In a Q&A section of the letter, McGinley said that students could mask the camera lens on their MacBooks if they wished. "There is no requirement that a student use the camera's standard webcam feature," he said. Some media reports have quoted high school students in the district as saying they had taken to slapping Post-it notes over the camera lens.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at Twitter @gkeizer or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed Keizer RSS. His e-mail address is gkeizer@ix.netcom.com.

Read more about Privacy in Computerworld's Privacy Topic Center.



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