The Lower Merion School (Pennsylvania) has agreed to a settlement with two students involved in the laptop spying case that made national news in February of this year. It seems that the school district, which began distributing laptops to high school students in 2008, had installed remote webcam activation software on the laptops for use when a laptop went missing. There were several problems, not the least of which was that no one from the district informed parents or users that such software existed. There was also no district policy in place to regulate the use of the software, and no oversight of the people in charge of activating the software. In the process, district IT workers had captured over 56,000 images from activated webcams, some of which were not from computers that had been misplaced.
A single student sued the school for its breach of trust, and the lawsuit threatened to go to class-action status to cover the 40 or so students whose images had been captured and stored by the district’s IT department.
The settlement amounts to $610,000, to be paid by the district’s insurance company. The majority of that payout (over $400,000) is paying off the lawyers; the student who sued first will receive $175,000 in a trust, and a second student will receive $10,000.
The school district, in my opinion, is getting off very very lucky, as is the IT manager who thought all this was a good idea in the first place. I’m all for retrieving stolen property, but I’m also all for covering everyone’s butts with well-written, clear-cut policy statements that state when snooping software can be used and why. You can’t get in trouble if you’re being above-board, everyone knows what you’re doing and why, and you are very clear about how policy will be enforced.
This should also send a message to other school districts who may be considering similar snooping measures to cover district-owned computer equipment.