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Pa. Webcam Spying Case Takes Alarming Twist

Investigators in the Webcam spying case involving a suburban Philadelphia high school are claiming that school officials took tens of thousands of Webcam images of students in their homes over a two-year period.

software

On Monday, The Philadelphia Inquirer, citing data provided by a lawyer involved in Lower Merion School District's internal investigation, reported that in most of the cases, school officials activated the software when a student reported their school-issued laptop as missing. The software snaps Web cam images every 15 seconds to assist authorities in theft investigations.

But in five cases, officials failed to turn off the Web cam after the missing laptop had been found, during which time the software captured about 13,000 Web cam images. Even more alarming is that in about 15 cases, investigators have been unable to figure out why the tracking software was activated at all, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer report.

David Sockol, president and CEO of Emagined Security, San Carlos, Calif., says tools like Absolute Manage TheftTrack, which the school reportedly used in its tracking, shouldn't be used without appropriate policies and controls. In this case, these don't appear to have been in place.

"For tools of this nature, policies and procedures are instrumental to ensuring appropriate use. Unfortunately, it's way too easy for individuals with access to take advantage of tools like this," Sockol said. "I typically recommend that organizations get legal review of their intended use of tools like this, to ensure that they are being appropriately used.

These are stunning revelations in a case that began in February when parents of Harriton High School sophomore Blake Robbins sued the school for allegedly monitoring their son via Webcam while he was at home. The parents filed suit after a school administrator reportedly confronted Robbins, accused him of engaging in "improper behavior," and produced an image taken from his laptop Web cam as evidence.

At the time, school officials acknowledged remotely activating the software 42 times over the previous 14 months to find missing laptops, but denied spying on any students.

But in a federal court filing last week, which can be found on Wired.com, Robbins' lawyers claim school officials left the tracking software running on his laptop for 15 days and took over 400 Web cam images and screen shots of his private IM conversations.

Carol Cafiero, a school IT administrator, has invoked her Fifth Amendment rights when asked to testify in the case, according to the court filing, which also suggests that she "may be a voyeur." In an e-mail to Cafiero, another school IT staffer likened the images and screen shots being collected from students' PCs to a student "soap opera," and Cafiero responded "I know, I love it!" according to the court filing.

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