Pa. school spy case sparks fight over money

Sen. Arlen Specter to hold hearing March 29 on laptop Web cam snooping

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The parents involved with lmsdparents.org objected to the Robbins' lawsuit, saying that the family doesn't represent the majority of possible claimants. "We seek an end to the litigation, especially the class action for damages, to reduce monetary costs to the district," they said on the site. "The motion to intervene will give the parents a voice in opposing class certification for damages."

Instead, the parents want DuBois to appoint an independent public advocate who would lead an investigation, report findings and make recommendations that could include alternate technologies for tracking down lost or stolen laptops. They have also demanded that the school district be permanently barred from remotely activating the MacBooks' cameras to locate missing machines.

Those who opposed the Robbins' demand for money said they had no interest in squeezing the district, and noted that they were represented by attorneys working pro bono who have children at the district's high schools. "Interveners and their many supporters are not interested in receiving money damages at the expense of educational programs in their schools," the motion said.

But any violations of the law on the part of school district employees, if that is found to be the case, should to be punished. "Interveners have no interest in sweeping [Lower Merion School District] wrongdoing under the rug," the motion stated. "They are as interested in a full accounting as are all other parents, determining the extent of that wrongdoing, establishing the appropriate consequences, and securing appropriate relief to ensure it does not reoccur."

The parents also claimed that the Robbins family had not paid the $55 annual insurance on the laptop issued to Blake Robbins; according to Lower Merion's policy, uninsured laptops are not to be taken off school campus.

Sen. Specter will hold the hearing in Philadelphia on March 29, but a list of prospective witnesses won't be released until early next week, his office confirmed today. Specter's goal, said a spokeswoman, is "not to find out what did or did not happen," but will instead be focused on whether federal laws have kept up with technological changes. "The issue is one of surreptitious eavesdropping," Specter told the Philadelphia Inquirer Wednesday. "Unbeknownst to people, their movements and activities were under surveillance."

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

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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