Educational CyberPlayGround ®

ethics of Harriton High public School administration who
Used Apple Laptop Webcams To SPY On Students At Home

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Shock and Awe
Peeping Tom
in your own home!


Individual Privacy is a Basic Human Right.

This is about the intersection of Legal, Social and Ethical Issues that are at the heart of Information Technology.

Officials can activate webcams remotely without students' knowledge.

What Happened Here?

The Lower Merion School District provided 2,300 Apple laptops to the students in two high schools. See 1:1 Program Below. The School District ADMITS THAT IS NEVER NOTIFIED PARENTS that they were able to activate the webcam and use it to watch AND take pictures of children in their own homes. The AUP says the Children have no choice. They have to use the school computers. They are not allowed to change anything on the computers. They can't use their own computers in school. If they break the rules they are expelled.

Once upon a time, schools "belonged" to the local parents, then to local school boards, but the disconnect started, that is when the states started supervising. Now control has been given away for "free federal money" and now most parents experience interacting with schools, is "you don't understand what it is like to teach" (translation, go away and don't trouble us" PS send more money)
So parents did and do.

In 2001, the U.S. Supreme Court reaffirmed the privacy of the home in a case that said police could not permeate a home with infrared lights to see if a suspect was using heat lamps to grow marijuana. Technology or no, Supreme Court precedents "draw a firm line at the entrance to the house," Justice Antonin Scalia wrote.
"This isn't just them spying on the kids, this is them intruding on the parents' home. Who knows what they are seeing?" Walczak said. "The courts for 80 years have said there's no greater sanctuary than a person's own home."

Don't you think the "improper behavior" that [we the citizens] need to investigate is how the school district IT department can break the law, and allow administrators to break the law? Afterall, ignorance doesn't let administrators off the hook. Teachers have to follow rules, and students have to follow the rules. Administrators need to know and respect the laws governing technology use in a public school!!

The school may have the right to retain admin control over its own laptops, but spying on kids at home without their knowledge is likely not one of them.
Witold J Walczak, the legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, told the Associated Press that like police, state school officials are barred from entering the home electronically or physically without a warrant.



And even if an AUP had been written to allow the school district into your house and be able to activate the webcam whenever they wanted, and forced all school students to use the computer or get expelled should citizens of the United States of America allow the TECHNOLOGY STAFF OF A SCHOOL DISTRICT, OR COUNTY, OR STATE THE RIGHT TO DO THIS? NO!

Guidelines for Use of Student Laptops 1
The laptop computers that will be issued to all high school students are the property of Lower Merion School District. Students are responsible for the appropriate use of these laptops both at school and at home. The laptops are for the use of students for educational purposes. All commercial, illegal, unethical and inappropriate use of these laptops is expressly prohibited.
Students are to comply with copyright laws. Downloading games or software is expressly prohibited. Only District licensed software is to be installed on the laptops.
The maintenance of laptops is the student's responsibility. If laptops need repair or maintenance students are to report to the Technology Center in their building. Vandalism to any laptop or accessory is strictly prohibited. Students must present school issued picture ID when they bring their laptop in or pick up from repair.
Students should refer to the Student Acceptable Use Policy and their Guidelines. Any violation will be subject to discipline as outlined in the Harriton and Lower Merion Student Guide.
High school teachers will distribute laptops during Advisory period on September 8, 2009. Laptops will have a label containing the student's name and other information specific to the laptop for identification.

Whistle Blower

Teacher Training in K-12 Education and Teaching To Standards
Teachers understand the social,ethical,legal,and human issues surrounding the use of technology in PK-12 schools and apply those principles in practice. Teachers:

1. model and teach legal and ethical practice related to technology use.
2. apply technology resources to enable and empower learners with diverse backgrounds, characteristics, and abilities.
3. identify and use technology resources that affirm diversity
4. promote safe and healthy use of technology resources.
5. facilitate equitable access to technology resources for all students.

The Robbins family says an assistant principal at Harriton High School named Lindy Matsko, confirmed that the school district "in fact has the ability to remotely activate the Webcam contained in a student's personal laptop computer issued by the school district at any time it chose, and to view and capture whatever images were in front of the Webcam."

"At no time did any high school administrator have the ability or actually access the security-tracking software."
~ Christopher McGinley, Lower Merion School District Superintendent

'The issue came to light on November 11, 2009 when Penn Valley residents Michael and Holly Robbins' son Blake was disciplined by the Harriton High School Assistant Vice Principal Lindy Matsko. She spied aka "caught" Blake [ facebook page ] engaging in "improper behavior" in his home which was captured in an image using the Apple Computer's built in webcam and microphone software and used as evidence. Matsko confirmed to Michael Robbins that the school had the ability to activate the webcams remotely, according to the suit, which was filed Tuesday and which seeks class-action status.

3/5/2010 The Admin story changes. Now The district says it turned on the camera in Robbins' computer because, since he had not paid a $55 insurance fee, he should not have been taking it home. But this is NOT theft!

Computing and Information Technology espionage techniques uSED to invade the privacy of citizens of the United States.

NOTE: This is not about any public school student but the ethical, moral and legal behavior of the any public school district who sanctions the use of Computing and Information Technology espionage techniques, to invade the privacy of citizens of the United States. According to James H. Moore, who is believed to have first coined the phrase "computer ethics", computer ethics is the analysis of the nature and social impact of computer technology and the corresponding formulation and justification of policies for the ethical use of such technology. It is a study, an analysis of the values of human actions influenced by computer technology. Reporting Computer, Internet-Related, or Intellectual Property Crime also see Legal Resources

McGinley said the parents and students were not explicitly told about this built-in security feature.

Doug Young, spokesman for the Lower Merion School District, said IF the laptop was stolen the district would first have to request access from its technology and security department and receive authorization, he said. Then it would use the built-in security feature to take over the laptop and see whatever was in the webcam's field of vision, potentially allowing them to track down the missing computer. During the 2009-2010 school year, 42 laptops were reported lost, stolen or missing, and the tracking software was activated by the technology department in each instance, according to McGinley's statement. A total of 18 laptops were found or recovered. Laptop Capabilities at home.

Right-To-Know/Public Access to School District Records
Click here for information on Policies, Procedures, Forms & Fees|
Contact Information: LMSD Open Records Officer
Fran Keaveney, Board Secretary
Lower Merion School District
301 E. Montgomery Ave.
Ardmore, PA 19003

The Superintendent should be fired.
The principal should be fired.
The vice-principal should be fired.
The school's IT staff should be fired.
The school board should be fired.

The Administrators claim that their intent excuses their behavior. But if the Assistant Principal DID in fact confront Blake Robbins with "evidence" gleaned from the webcam, then they can no longer argue, what their intent was; the FACT will be that they used an image surreptitiously obtained of a student in his private home for a purpose other than locating the computer.


Administrators knew what they were doing. Cutting off the hydra from top down would be a big help.

  • Sean McDonough Acting Director PA Certified Technology Plan Approver
    333 Market Street, 11th Floor Harrisburg, PA 17126
    (717) 705-4486 and (717) 787-3148
  • Jim Beeghley, State Educational Technology Director 717-705-8884
  • MONTGOMERY COUNTY CIO Jack D. Pond Norristown, PA Montgomery County, PA 19404 [p] (610) 278-5200 / 610-278-3582 twitter - Purchasing - wiki
    The Law Enforcement Justice Information Sharing Project (LEJIS) is a project of the Southeastern Pennsylvania Regional Counter-Terrorism Task force (SEPAR-CTTF).
    Information and Technology Solutions (ITS)
    610 - 278-5200 Fax 610-270-0229 One Montgomery Plaza 8th Floor
  • Lower Merion Township Police Superintendent Michael J. McGrath knows about these devices On at least two occasions, the district turned over pictures and other information to Lower Merion police so they could help track stolen laptops. The district even set up a secure Web site so the police could have access to pictures and other information, according to attorneys in the case.
  • Lower Merion School Board - Douglas Young
    Apple Laptop Tech Surplus Exhibit #F0-27
  • Lower Merion School District Superintendent - Christopher McGinley,
  • Information Systems Coordinator Carol Cafiero
  • Director of Information Systems - George Frazier
    Several years ago Frazier addressed parent groups in Illinois and North Carolina on Cyber safety and dangers to children, adolescents and teens. He also spoke with Lower Merion parents to gain a better understanding of what technology and technology services parents and guardians see as important for the future of their children. He seems to know quite a lot about what it is to be a cyberbully and cyberpredator. Frazier budgeted money to buy the iSafe America, Inc. curriculum. Here is an interesting evaluation of ISafe that was conducted by a consulting firm under contract with the National Institute of Justice.

Several meetings have been held at which the matter of laptop use, safety and security were discussed. These included:

- September 11, 2008 - HS PTO meeting discussion on acceptable use and internet safety for teens (1:1 laptop initiative Q&A) - Harriton HS
- November 14, 2009 - Internet Safety for Teens - Sponsored by the Office of the Attorney General of PA - Ardmore YMCA
- High School Internet Safety (iSafe Inc.), Acceptable Use Guidelines, Copyright - Taught to every 9th grade student in the information technology course in the fall semester. Also included in the yearlong advisory topic list for students in grades 9-12.

  • Jason Hilt - L.M. Supervisor of Instructional Technology 610-645-1904
  • Lower Merion Network Technicians Brad Miller, Mike Perbix, Jeremy Valentine
  • Lower Merion School Principal - Sean Hughes
  • Lower Merion Vice Principal - Lindy Matsko

Is remote access activity by the district logged?

  • Yes. There is a log entry for every instance of the security feature activation. The logs will be reviewed as part of the special review conducted under the direction of special outside counsel.
  • Upon a report of a suspected lost, stolen or missing laptop, the feature was activated by the District's security and technology departments.


One-to-One laptop program

  • Discussed by the students 2008
  • Home filtering 03/04/2010 The testing phase of the home filtering product is still underway. The filtering product mirrors the restrictions placed on the laptopwhile on the LMSD network. Home filtering is optional and will be applied at the written requestof the parent/guardian. The home filtering product will not impede access to educational websites.
  • By providing these laptops for take home, The school officials have now become responsible - and potentially liable - for all student communications [think cyberbully] using these laptops. No school can effectively manage 1:1 laptops. Schools are not going to employ staff to try to monitor all of student's online activity using school computers while at home. How will a school make sure students are not using school computers while at home to engage in cyberbullying of other students if they are bypassing the filter to get to Facebook.


  • Possession of a monitored Macbook was required for classes
  • Possession of an unmonitored personal computer was forbidden and would be confiscated
  • Disabling the camera was impossible
  • Jailbreaking a school laptop in order to secure it or monitor it against intrusion was an offense which merited expulsion

Best practices for any parent who believes their school system may be using issued hardware to spy on their children (in Lower Merion or elsewhere):

  • Understand that most laptops have a microphone and a video camera embedded, and that remote activation of microphones can be utterly silent. Remote-activation software can be used to capture keystrokes, send commands over the Internet or turn computers into listening devices by turning on built-in microphones.
  • If the issue becomes public, as is the case above, connecting the laptop to a school administered network or VPN may allow administrators to remove forensic traces of spying. Do not network the computer until evidence collection is complete.
  • Seek out a computer security professional or your helpful neighborhood hacker to perform a full forensic hard drive capture of the potential spy platform.
  • Consult a lawyer before confronting school officials. Capturing live network forensic evidence of remote spying can be far more powerful than word-of-mouth allegations.


§ 161.1. School Administrators' Handbook.
The School Administrator's Handbook contains the basic policies, directives and procedures of the Department of Education. It is an adjunct to the school laws of the Commonwealth for the administration of the schools of this Commonwealth.

§ 235.10. Relationships with students. The professional educator may not:
(1) Knowingly and intentionally distort or misrepresent evaluations of students.
(2) Knowingly and intentionally misrepresent subject matter or curriculum.
(3) Sexually harass or engage in sexual relationships with students.
(4) Knowingly and intentionally withhold evidence from the proper authorities about violations of the legal obligations as defined within this section.

§ 235.5. Conduct.
Individual professional conduct reflects upon the practices, values, integrity and reputation of the profession. Violation of § § 235.6—235.11 may constitute an independent basis for private or public reprimand, and may be used as supporting evidence in cases of certification suspension and revocation.

§ 235.6. Legal obligations.
(a) The professional educator may not engage in conduct prohibited by the act of December 12, 1973 (P. L. 397, No. 141) (24 P. S. § § 12-1251—12-1268), known as the Teacher Certification Law.
(b) The professional educator may not engage in conduct prohibited by:
(1) The Public School Code of 1949 (24 P. S. § § 1-101—27-2702) and other laws relating to the schools or the education of children.
(2) The applicable laws of the Commonwealth establishing ethics of public officials and public employes, including the act of October 4, 1978 (P. L. 883, No. 170) (65 P. S. § § 401—413), known as the Public Official and Employee Ethics Law.
(c) Violation of subsection (b) shall have been found to exist by an agency of proper jurisdiction to be considered an independent basis for discipline. Cross References: This section cited in 22 Pa. Code § 235.5 (relating to conduct).

Weakening the
Public Institutions
and Agencies

Matsko acknowledged the school could start the webcam and take pictures whenever it wanted to.

The family's lawsuit alleges the school district violated civil rights, privacy and federal wiretapping laws, and it says as many as 1,800 students could be affected at Harriton and Lower Merion High Schools. The family also claims that every high school student in the district had a webcam laptop, and the computers were paid for with state and federal aid money. The damages are currently unspecified. Because it is a class-action, there may be more parties to join. Superintendent Christopher W. McGinley was also named in the suit.
Lower Merion officials acknowledged that they remotely activated webcams 42 times in the past 14 months, but only to find missing student laptops. They insist they never did so to spy on students, as the student's family claimed in the federal lawsuit. Families were not informed of the possibility the webcams might be activated in their homes without their permission in the paperwork students sign when they get the computers, district spokesman Doug Young said.
Families were not informed of the possibility the webcams might be activated in their homes without their permission in the paperwork students sign when they get the computers, district spokesman Doug Young said.

People should go to jail. Not only should they be sued for invasion of privacy but there should also be a child pornography component to this case as well.

Family Rights

The Center on Law and Information Policy has just released a report examining the privacy of state K - 12 educational records databases just as Congress is considering expanding these databases and funding the aggregation of the state databases into multi-state (and likely an eventual national) database of children. The report can be downloaded at

EDUCATION selling K-12 student INFORMATION and their rights to privacy.
Privacy and Encryption companies gather and sell k12 student information. Check to see whether your school district has a policy about disclosing student information. How 10 digits will end privacy as we know it.
Teachers: Does your district have a policy regarding students privacy?

Student's Free Speech Rights and the Internet - Children vs. the Administrator

Surveillance vs. Workplace Privacy

“Security versus Privacy” and “Liberty versus Control”
"Privacy protects us from abuses by those in power, even if we're doing nothing wrong at the time of surveillance.
We do nothing wrong when we make love or go to the bathroom. We are not deliberately hiding anything when we seek out private places for reflection or conversation. We keep private journals, sing in the privacy of the shower, and write letters to secret lovers and then burn them. Privacy is a basic human need. [...]
For if we are observed in all matters, we are constantly under threat of correction, judgment, criticism, even plagiarism of our own uniqueness. We become children, fettered under watchful eyes, constantly fearful that -- either now or in the uncertain future -- patterns we leave behind will be brought back to implicate us, by whatever authority has now become focused upon our once-private and innocent acts. We lose our individuality, because everything we do is observable and recordable. [...]
This is the loss of freedom we face when our privacy is taken from us. This is life in former East Germany, or life in Saddam Hussein's Iraq. And it's our future as we allow an ever-intrusive eye into our personal, private lives.
Too many wrongly characterize the debate as "security versus privacy." The real choice is liberty versus control. Tyranny, whether it arises under threat of foreign physical attack or under constant domestic authoritative scrutiny, is still tyranny. Liberty requires security without intrusion, security plus privacy. Widespread police surveillance is the very definition of a police state. And that's why we should champion privacy even when we have nothing to hide.

The Computer Help Form that this School District could use to help them with their spying problems.

ATTN PARENTS: Who else may have your credit card information used to pay for the computer insurance you had to buy?

Abuse of Students by School Employees

Recent Amendments to Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act
Relating to Anti-Terrorism Activities April 12, 2002

Safety Congressional Testimony House Education and Labor Committee Joint Subcommittee Hearing on Strengthening School Safety - July 8, 2009
Joint subcommittee hearing of the Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary and Secondary Education, and the Subcommittee on Healthy Families and Communities

If School District Administrators are this ignorant about technology how will they ever be able to handle a school disaster?

Attention Americans highly value their privacy.

U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter, D-Pa., introduced a bill Thursday to treat video surveillance the same as electronic communication under the federal Wiretap Act. Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., a co-sponsor.