Feds Say Judge Blocking Investigation Access To Laptop Spy Scandal Photos

from the maybe-you-should-have-thought-things-through dept

Things aren't looking too hot for the Pennsylvania school district that thought it would be a good idea to use student laptop webcams to spy on students at home. E-mails acquired by the lawyer heading up a civil suit against the administrator and the school district seem to highlight how the administrator had a wonderful time spying on students, while also indicating that tens of thousands of photos were taken (contrary to district claims that barely any photos were taken). As many of our commenters had wondered, it appears the lawyer may be trying to bolster his case by potentially bringing the administrator up on child porn charges -- assuming the photos involved nudity and were offloaded to her home PC. The administrator behind the plan denies those charges, and only just last weekend decided to stop pleading the Fifth and hand over the PC in question to a computer forensics expert hired by the district.

While the legality of spying on students with webcams remains in dispute, the potential child porn angle of the case has caught the eye of a federal grand jury and the FBI, who are investigating the district. But, in an added wrinkle, federal prosecutors are now claiming that a U.S. District Judge is hampering their investigation into the case. The Feds are complaining about a recent Judge order banning anyone from disseminating evidence involving the case to anyone not directly involved in the lawsuit. Prosecutors, of course, want to get their hands on the photographs taken by the webcams (which are now estimated to total 56,000 -- with only one made public), and are asking the Judge to modify his order (which was asked for by the plaintiffs) accordingly.

Interestingly, in an effort to try and control media coverage of the case, a group of area parents are asking the same U.S. District Judge to issue an order banning anyone involved in the case from giving interviews "near district schools or students' homes":

"...wearied by the international attention caused by the suit, a group of Lower Merion parents asked the judge Friday to ban lawyers and other parties in the case from giving interviews near district schools or students' homes. "We and many other parents of Lower Merion School District are outraged by the substantial distraction that the recent media frenzy has visited upon our district and our community," the parents wrote to U.S. District Judge Jan E. DuBois. "The incessant news cycles about this litigation are plainly taking their toll on the education of our children," the parents' letter said. "It has become a harmful distraction to the very persons that plaintiffs and their counsel seek to represent."
Trying to lock down media coverage and evidence doesn't appear to be helping. Meanwhile, the school district is lucky to be wealthy enough to not only give a significant chunk of their 6,000+ students Apple laptops, but also to be able to afford their legal bill -- which is estimated as having already broken the half a million dollar mark. That's barely half of 1 percent of the current $193 million budget of the Lower Merion School District. So, the scandal has resulted not only in a lawsuit and a huge (and growing) legal bill, but also in a national firestorm. It has given several politicians a re-election platform, prompted the creation of potential new national privacy legislation, and resulted in an FBI investigation. How's that stolen laptop and surveillance project working out again?


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  •  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 3rd, 2010 @ 6:42am

    Actually, I think the surveillance program is working out great (for me).

    1. This sort of insane invasion of privacy might just result in severe consequences for the officials. The paper trail that is generated from tracking students might serve as a cautionary tale for other nosy school officials.

    2. Parents might finally realize that facebook isn't the biggest danger to their children on the internet. In this case, the biggest danger was "well-meaning" school officials.

    3. A law insuring some sort of internet privacy might get thrown onto the books. And in any argument or debate, this example of abuse trumps any reason to lower an expectation of privacy on the internet.

    I think all three of those things are good. Although I feel very badly for the abused children, hopefully the ultimate outcome will offer some relief to their pain, knowing it will never happen again.

     

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      Aj, May 3rd, 2010 @ 7:11am

      Re:

      "knowing it will never happen again."

      As much as i would like to believe you are correct in that they can rest easy knowing it will never happen again, I also understand you can't fix stupid, so I'm sure we'll see this again in some form.....

       

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    Patty, May 3rd, 2010 @ 7:17am

    Lower Merion

    I believe the "I know, I love it" comment was made in anticipation of the laptop - and spycam - program. I have been following this story with great merriment but in all fairness, this comment is being quoted out of context.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, May 3rd, 2010 @ 7:28am

      Re: Lower Merion

      I believe the "I know, I love it" comment was made in anticipation of the laptop - and spycam - program.

      Citation needed.


      Also, do you really see a significant difference between someone saying "I know, I love it" in anticipation of spying on kids versus the ongoing act of spying on kids?

       

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      weneedhelp (profile), May 3rd, 2010 @ 5:10pm

      Re: Lower Merion

      Patty,
      Are you one of those asshole "parents"?
      It was like a window into "a little LMSD soap opera," a staffer is quoted as saying in an e-mail to Carol Cafiero.
      When combined with:
      "I know, I love it"
      Yeah...no...not out of context here.

      "I have been following this story"
      On Faux news no doubt.
      The coverage on Faux 29 IS SUCH A JOKE.

       

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  •  
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    B. Franklin, May 3rd, 2010 @ 7:17am

    True then... truer now...

    Common sense, isn't that common.

    Personally, I hope these officials are hung out to dry.

    This type of Orwellian invasion of the government (even local school government) into the private lives of citizens is completely unforgivable.

    The original incident where the student was punished for some behavior that occured OUTSIDE of school property is a complete violation of the school's authority and only by pushing back will we be able to reign in the ever increasing "authority" that the government is trying to exercise over us.

    An "authority" that our founding fathers would take up arms to overthrow.

    They thought taxation without representation was bad in colonial days... they probably die of heart attacks if they saw where their dream has lead...

    A country run by corporations and special interest groups - and who ever has the largest pocketbook. A country where every power-happy government official tries to get more and more power and take over more and more aspects of our lives.

     

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    •  
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      Getefix, May 3rd, 2010 @ 7:38am

      Re: True then... truer now...

      America's founding father's would be utterly baffled that we opted to keep using their system of government when advances in technology provide unprecedented opportunity for direct citizen involvement in the legislative process.

       

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        Dark Helmet (profile), May 3rd, 2010 @ 8:53am

        Re: Re: True then... truer now...

        Several of them, notably Jefferson, would also wonder why we have gone so long without some form of a revolution, which they prescribed every generation or so as being healthy....

         

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        Anonymous Coward, May 3rd, 2010 @ 10:11am

        Re: Re: True then... truer now...

        I'm not sure that's true, as evidenced by the Electoral College used during Presidential elections. If direct citicen involvement was an ideal to be pursued, why did they build in that kind of an abstraction buffer into a system that otherwise strives for direct involvement?

        I submit that the US is a Republic in truth, with only a coloring of true Democracy. And I further submit that this was fully intended by (at least a majority of) the founding fathers.

         

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          byte^me (profile), May 3rd, 2010 @ 10:36am

          Re: Re: Re: True then... truer now...

          You are exactly right. My understanding has always been that the founding fathers did not trust the general populace to always make the best decisions, thus the creation of a Republic, not a Democracy.

          That would also explain why the members of Electoral College are not required to vote for the candidate their state voted for. Potentially, this could keep poor candidates from being put into office if the Electoral College chooses someone else.

           

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      Azalus, May 3rd, 2010 @ 1:16pm

      Re: True then... truer now...

      I would have to disagree, the "founding fathers" were every bit as corrupt as the current system.

      To that end there is evidence to suggest that the revolutionary war was started, in part, due to a deal the english had made with the east india trading company for tea and the fact that bootleggers were being undercut by this new deal.

      if the above is true then the phrase "No taxation without representation" was the 18th century equivalent to "They took our jobs!" or "They have WMDs"

      FYI: I am an American, and fully believe that idealistically a democratic republic is the best form of government.

       

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    out_of_the_blue, May 3rd, 2010 @ 7:30am

    This can't be in just *one* district.

    But is surely nationwide. Has the potential to explode if the populace ever grasps that this obvious Big Brother surveillance is not just an isolated case but AFFECTS THEM TOO.

    Interesting that television shows trained young people that it's "cool" to be under continuous surveillance, isn't it? Almost exactly as a far-reaching conspiracy would do.

     

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  •  
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    bob, May 3rd, 2010 @ 7:35am

    Egregious

    The actions of the administrators and teachers involved in this scandal should be fired and not allowed to retire on the taxpayers dime.
    If they paid money into their retirement that money should go to pay back the tax payers.
    This is also a forth amendment issue, where these kids civil rights were violated.

     

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    zeiche (profile), May 3rd, 2010 @ 9:48am

    Easy fix for all of this..

    None of this would be a problem if the schools were privatized.

     

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      Dark Helmet (profile), May 3rd, 2010 @ 9:52am

      Re: Easy fix for all of this..

      "None of this would be a problem if the schools were privatized."

      1. Er, why not? Private schools can't violate constitutional amendments either....

      2. On the other hand, you're kind of correct. You privatize all education in America and you won't be worried about them spying on you, since you'll have far greater problems to be concerned with....

       

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    Lower Minions, May 3rd, 2010 @ 10:08am

    Another RICH school district is brought down by the sheer weight of its incompetence. Just goes to show the hubris that they have.

     

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    ALANTONE (profile), May 3rd, 2010 @ 11:53am

    Parents & School Officials should be send to detention!!!

    I think the parents as well as the school district are to blame. Lack of compromise is usually what lands people in court.

    In this case it should have been resolved at the school level, or the district level or even the school board level. Instead money will be wasted on attorney feels by both sides, careers will destroyed and children emotionally impacted. And for what??

    Sadly, this is our society of today. Sue first and ask questions later.

     

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      FormerAC (profile), May 3rd, 2010 @ 12:47pm

      Re: Parents & School Officials should be send to detention!!!

      I'm curious what "compromise" would have solved this problem? A school district implements technological measures that allow it to spy on their students day or night. They collect over 50,000 pictures with their spy cameras.

      The careers were destroyed when they decided to implement big brother. Children were emotionally impacted the moment they became aware they were being spied upon.

      What exactly is going to be solved by compromise? (besides depriving some starving lawyers of a paycheck)

       

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    weneedhelp (profile), May 3rd, 2010 @ 4:56pm

    Screw the 4th and F the1st

    So now not only are parents saying its ok to piss on the 4th, they are saying F the 1st as well. I spent a lot of time in this area, and the "Main Line" attitude is appalling. The area is filled with a bunch of rich assholes. If you dont drive a BMW, or Mercedes, they treat you like trash. I worked with a master plumber for 10 years on the Main Line, and while we were building 20-60k kitchens, bathrooms, central air systems, etc, they still treated us as second class citizens. I got news for you richies, we were laughing at you all the way to the bank. I was 16 pulling in almost a G a week. These people would have been the first to put themselves, and their families on the trains to internment camps if this were Nazi Germany.

     

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    CarlaJHabeas, May 5th, 2010 @ 4:46am

    Spying on Kids,,business as Usual

    Sue first ask questions later Alantone?

    Interesting outlook.

    Look, the issue that a 15 year old kid DID WARN and basically BEGGED the school NOT to put cameras in the computers just months before this huge violations of Civil Liberties, spying and organized pedophilia, tells me we are dealing with people who have done this before.

    The school even made the child feel small by making him feel as if he did not have the right to ask about the camera.

    Teen had warned about laptop webcam issue, e-mail shows
    http://www.therepublic.com/view/story/CPT-CYBERSPYING_2266055/CPT-CYBERSPYING_2266055/


    Its obvious this 15 year old had the foresight many adult Americans do not. Common sense? Sense is NOT common. Why is it that Adult man so ignorant and children so wise??? It must be education that does it.

    As to the Founding fathers? They were running for their lives in a corrupt system of "rockets red glare" and "bombs bursting in mid air" (It was bascially a war and the founding fathers were scared for their lives that the Constitution and Bill Of Rights would cause a revolt against Monarchy of King George and his followers- enter Framers and Habeas Corpus).

    The Constitution was written out of desperation in a corrupt America ran by King George where people were spied on, property taken and courts/judges/verdicts bought.

    HOW HISTORY MADE THE CONSTITUTION
    http://www.americanheritage.com/articles/magazine/ah/1988/2/1988_2_54.shtml

     

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