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February 22nd, 2010
08:50 AM ET

Schools Secretly Record Students

Smile, you're on camera.

A Philadelphia school district is hit with a class-action lawsuit– because it didn't tell students that.

Well, sort of.

School computers given to students in the Lower Merion District have webcams that can be remotely activated – even secretly recording students in their homes.

Some students and parents feel it is a gross invasion of privacy

The school district is defending the program, saying it was set up to help track down missing or stolen computers.

So what do you think?

Did the school district cross the line?

It admits parents should have been notified, but should this technology even be in place on computers given to students?

Share your comments here.

We’ll use some of them in the CNN Newsroom, 11am ET – 1pm ET.

Filed under: Brooke Baldwin • Tony Harris
soundoff (50 Responses)
  1. Jerry Daniel

    Public schools have long felt that they have a right to greater incursions into the life of their students than law allows. It comes from a mindset that they are the professionals in dealing with students and that the parents are rank amateurs. As an educator, I can atest to the fact that SOME parents do have their heads in the sand when it comes to their children. However, the vast majority of parents know far more about their own children than educators. Spying in the home of students IS, without a doubt, a rank disregard of the privacy of the homes of those parents and students.

    February 22, 2010 at 8:57 am |
  2. Don

    I believe that these School Officials should be Prosecuted to the Fullest Limit of the Law and Jailed – For a VERY LONG TIME!!
    If you think for one moment that we believe that this is an Innocent Incident, Especially since you were Caught, Secretly and Illegally Recording a Student, YOU ARE OUT OF YOUR MIND!!!!That Machine was NOT Missing or Stolen and You KNEW IT!!!!
    We must Immediately make an EXAMPLE out of these people, If we Do NOT? More of these "Socialists" will start doing the same, and It WILL get worse!
    If you do NOT like the Bill of Rights and The Constitution, GET OUT!!!! We don`t want you here!!!!!

    February 22, 2010 at 9:14 am |
  3. Don

    Pissed? Hell Yes!!! We`re glad our kids are out of School already!!!!!!!!

    February 22, 2010 at 9:16 am |
  4. michael armstrong sr. TX.

    Maybe these schools needs to hire attorneys because if they had one they would know that invasion of privacy is a law and prosecutible .

    February 22, 2010 at 9:42 am |
  5. pistachio

    NO, they should not be spyed on at home even though the computers belong to the school. The solution is simple. Do not let the students take the computers home. If they don't have a computer at home that is their problem. All through my life there were people who had things others did not have and we survived. There should be no reason why students need computers for school work anyway. There must be other means for students who don't have computers at home. Some solutions are so simple, you wonder why people don't think of them. Simply keep the computers at school if that's who owns them.

    February 22, 2010 at 10:07 am |
  6. Scott Stodden

    Kyra it is absolutly wrong for the Philadelphia school district to put cameras on these computers, its an outrage that needs to be addressed because never should any school district give computers to students just so they can spy on them. I encourage all parents to pursue this lawsuit, its an invasion of privacy!

    Scott Stodden (Freeport,Illinois)

    February 22, 2010 at 10:28 am |
  7. jess

    I've said this before but I'll say it again. There is absolutely no way that this was a webam snapshot. You can not determine a kid is popping pills from a snapshot. It absolutely had to be a live feed....which is even worse.

    February 22, 2010 at 10:37 am |
  8. Joseph Helmstetter

    For violations of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, the School Board, Principle and others named in the law suit should face time at Gitmo along with other terrorist and they should be suspended immediately without pay. Charges should be at the Federal level and should include illegal use of the airways to collect data (the FCC should be involved in this case) and potential child pornography (where is the FBI on this). The Mayor of Philadelphia and the Governor’s office need to be on top of this issue and have the District Attorney begin an investigation into other school districts potential violations of the Constitution. Talk about broken Government!

    February 22, 2010 at 11:04 am |
  9. Bec

    This is beyond disgusting. If I were one of the children (or parents for that matter) I would feel so violated. I hope this stays in the news for a while so that it gets the coverage it needs to. People need to be aware of this. This is unconstitutional and should be treated as a felony.

    February 22, 2010 at 11:14 am |
  10. Nancy Daniels

    The school officials should be charged as peeping toms or worse sexual assault. Those kids probably have the computers in their bedrooms where they would be changing their clothes or anything. The schools had absolutely no right to be using webcams to spy on those kids!!!

    February 22, 2010 at 11:23 am |
  11. NJ RON

    This is really illegal child invasion in disguise. These pervereted teachers should be in Jail. Look at the truth and motivation behind this conduct. They don;t care about computers that are not even theirs. They wanted inappropriate videos of the kids. Put them in jail.

    February 22, 2010 at 11:24 am |
  12. Mark L

    every person that had knowledge of "spying" on children in their home should be charged as a
    what a shame!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    that adults would engage in this type of behavior!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    February 22, 2010 at 11:24 am |
  13. Krstofer

    I'm sorry kids, but the laptop was not your own- and as sad as it might be welcome to the world of 'big brother'. Had it been a private computer & the school logged in thats a reason to freak out. But they were school provided & If you are really worried now just put a piece of tape over that webcam & press on.

    February 22, 2010 at 11:24 am |
  14. Erik

    They absolutely crossed the line!!! The School has no business recording kids at home. If they want to keep track of computers, put GPS chips in them!! There is no reason for them to use the cameras when the students are off school property. Even on school property!!! That's invasion of privacy.

    February 22, 2010 at 11:26 am |
  15. Scott

    I wouldn't even want my closest friends to see what I was doing alone in my room, let alone teachers and other faculty members. Do you know how many creepy perverts worked at my high school? That's disgusting...

    February 22, 2010 at 11:27 am |
  16. Cheryl W

    If a parent or parents sent their children to the schools with undercover cameras and recorded the faculty and staff, the school district would be outraged. How are the school district's actions any different?

    February 22, 2010 at 11:28 am |
  17. Al Fitz

    Let's look at it from a different perspective. Imagine if I were a computer dealer and sold you a computer for your 14 year old daughter and remotely turned her camera on and watched her undressing.

    The police would have me in handcuffs within an hour of discovery. This is the most egregious form of peeping tom, invasion of privacy and kiddie porn.

    Even if a copy was not made, someone was watching. Disgusting behavior which calls for jail time for someone.

    February 22, 2010 at 11:28 am |
  18. Brooke

    This is disqusting, I cannot believe a school would do this for anything but some type of perverted benifit. I wonder how many times they have watched the young men and women undress in the "safety" of their own home. I cannot imagine what else this communist thinking school would have been doing activating and accessing these camers in the students home. Use them just to incriminate, I think not. That is a big fee to buy these students all computers! Does anyone not think they might have used these webcam laptops for a profit scheme? This really makes me reel, how could they do this to teenagers!!

    February 22, 2010 at 11:29 am |
  19. Allison

    Yes this is a violation of the children and the parents right to privacy. Keep in mind that kids listen to music and keep in contact with their frinds via the computer. The schools aren't allowed to put camras in the childrens homes so what makes them think that they can use that camera that they provided to do the same thing. And what about everything that is going on about "sextin" (kids sending nude text messages to friends). How is this any different than that. And the kids get in trouble for that.

    February 22, 2010 at 11:30 am |
  20. Rick

    YES they crossed the line. There should be an investigation to determine with whom this idea originated. That person should be fired and possibly prosecuted if a case can be made.

    February 22, 2010 at 11:31 am |
  21. Steven

    I think that schools should not have no power or information on students at home even if it was school labtops. The moment the student walked in the front door thay should not be watched or supervised that is there parents job. That is a invading there privacy i hope there parents have good lawers

    February 22, 2010 at 11:32 am |
  22. Angela Tacoma Washington

    Of course they crossed the line. Did they give the students access to their homes as well to check on their behavior after school hours... Everything that happens outside of school involves a parental note, how was this different, They knew this was wrong, the motive disturbs me. Most kids live in their bedrooms, how does the public school have the right to invade a private home? They are guilty as guilty a child predator, everyone involved should be treated as such.. they simply reversed the giving of candy to a child... to a computer, they knew they could not resist.... we taught them about strangers, candy. and bad guys... we never thought about the the public school system....

    February 22, 2010 at 11:33 am |
  23. indysmd

    It absolutely is wrong for the school district to be visually and audibly monitoring the private homes of students without permission.

    The school system's excuse of it being set up to help track down missing or stolen computers is bogus. There are other proven non-evasive ways of locating stolen computers without video or audio monitoring and far superior to video and audio monitoring (more accurate). How is what the school system did any different from invading private homes, concealing cameras and microphones, and watching (and possibly recording) the occupants? Or, peeping in windows?

    It sounds criminally wrong to me.

    February 22, 2010 at 11:33 am |
  24. Nightman

    As a graduate of a rival high school in the area I can easily say that this is just outrageous–outrageously inappropriate! I was shocked to hear the news of the lawsuit against such a prestigious school. I am no lawyer but I these allegations (if proven true) are without a doubt not only a violation of privacy, but a violation of federal laws, and even the Bill of Rights.
    I am shocked that any administrator would approve this "security" feature. There is no way that those who allowed the feature to be installed could believe there is nothing wrong with remotely activating a camera in a students laptop, when that laptop is taken off school property. If the school district were activating the camera on school property (where the school has jurisdiction) this would be allowable (but not popular). But as soon as the laptop leaves school jurisdiction (in say a home, for example) this feature is a violation of privacy and considered illegal wiretapping. Let us not forget that the school district did NOT inform the students or parents/guardians of this security feature. Not even a police officer could legally do this.
    The school officials, administrators, IT personnel and anyone else involved should be embarrassed at their stupidity and punished by law appropriately. I applaud the Robbins family for taking action in filing this class action lawsuit in federal court on behalf of all the students in the district.

    February 22, 2010 at 11:34 am |
  25. Dawn in Vermont

    This is so beyond the pale!! A simple GPS locator would have been sufficient to locate "missing computers." A remotely activated webcam proves that security was not the consideration that motivated this decision. Everyone has the right to expect privacy in their own bedroom, even students who do their homework in their rooms.

    February 22, 2010 at 11:37 am |
  26. Angela Tacoma Washington

    Of course they crossed the line. Did they give the students access to their homes as well to check on their behavior after school hours... Everything that happens outside of school involves a parental note, how was this different, They knew this was wrong, the motive disturbs me. Most kids live in their bedrooms, how does the public school have the right to invade a private home? They are guilty as guilty a child predator, everyone involved should be treated as such.. they simply reversed the giving of candy to a child... to a computer, they knew they could not resist.... we taught them about strangers, candy. and bad guys... we never thought about the the public school system....

    February 22, 2010 at 11:38 am |
  27. Angela Tacoma Washington

    Of course they crossed the line. Did they give the students access to their homes as well to check on their behavior after school hours... Everything that happens outside of school involves a parental note, how was this different, They knew this was wrong, the motive disturbs me. Most kids live in their bedrooms, how does the public school have the right to invade a private home? They are guilty as guilty a child predator, everyone involved should be treated as such.. they simply reversed the giving of candy to a child... to a computer, they knew they could not resist.... we taught them about strangers, candy. and bad guys... we never thought about the the public school system....

    February 22, 2010 at 11:38 am |
  28. Lewis

    Seriously? They thought this was a good idea? Yes the computers do belong to the school but outside of the classroom the teachers have no authority over the students. It's a huge violation of privacy and leaps and bounds outside the teacher's jurisdiction to do such a thing. And what kind of defense is "we wanted to track missing or stolen computers" through the camera? Really? There are programs you can install that sends a tracking report directly to your inbox but that would be to easy I guess.

    February 22, 2010 at 11:44 am |
  29. Meg Albers

    This is outrageous! Everyone involved from the school and/or school district should be fired. They should lose their license and be forbidden from working in any education field. It is a horrendous abuse of power by incredibly arrogant educators. It is this autocratic attitude that has the USA ranked 17th in education in the industrialized world. The entire education system in the USA is myopic and embarrassing...their fear of change, and entrenched tenure is protected at all costs! The education system is just like The health insurance industry, banking industry, and corporate world in general...broken!

    February 22, 2010 at 11:45 am |
  30. Costa Apostolou

    No one has the right to spy on children. This just seems wrong, and if there isn't any privacy laws that covers this situation then this is very disturbing. Unless the parents signed something to give the schools privilege to spy on their children, they should be made an example of. We have too understand there are predators in all walks of life. Giving a teacher that could be a potential predator access to their students web cams is very disturbing. What if some sick teacher is watching little girls or boys changing their clothes. This is so disturbing and I'm SHOCKED that a country like the USA doesn't have laws to protect children privacy. I never hear stories like this in Canada, the USA needs to step up and pass new laws that cover the internet and any electronic communicating devices to protect American privacy and keep them safe from predators and pedophiles. If the school would of just sent a Parent notice that they need to sign explaining what they want to do, most parents if not all would of agreed but this case is about principal and not informing parents thus causing a future law suit and a big headache for that school district. Also no one person should have the power to access a students computer, I hope when they did check the computers it was a group of Teachers and not just one teacher that would greatly increase the chance of a predator or pedophile to take video and pics of this children. If they can take pics they can also take video and actually see every website they access and it also records every keystroke thus giving the teaches the ability to log onto their email, social networking site accounts and ect.

    February 22, 2010 at 11:57 am |
  31. josh

    What if a 15 year old was getting dressed or sumthing with thier computer on?!!! probly happened many times... bet they won't bring that up

    February 22, 2010 at 12:31 pm |
  32. Ken

    the school district owns the laptop, they can do whatever they want with their own computers.. just like if u were issued a laptop from your employer, an employer has the right to view everything u do on their laptop.

    February 22, 2010 at 12:32 pm |
  33. michael armstrong sr. TX.

    The school may own the computer but they dont own a persons privacy rights unless they have signed concent to show otherwise .

    February 22, 2010 at 12:46 pm |
  34. chris

    The school teachers are out of their mind. Just give each teacher a computer and remote control the webcam to see how they are passing their time.

    February 22, 2010 at 1:03 pm |
  35. Ken

    well, if the kids want more privacy they should use there own private pc's. not the pc that is owned by the government..

    February 22, 2010 at 1:49 pm |
  36. richard f/austin/san antonio

    I say if you can track down a missing dog with a chip and no cam, for sure you can track down a missing computer w/out a cam. Guess the Supreme Court will have to decide on this one and that scares me!

    February 22, 2010 at 2:00 pm |
  37. Ken

    electrical tape over that webcam works wonders!! but if ur assigned a computer owned by the government for free, what kind of privacy would u expect?????

    February 22, 2010 at 2:24 pm |
  38. Angie

    Schools gave students computers with Web cams that can be remotely activated by an adult, who is somewhere else, to watch a student in their home?

    School district claims that it was their method of preventing the computers from being stolen? What ever happened to the idea of a homing device or location chip monitor.

    Since when is putting Web Cams into computers, given to students by the school district, that can be remotely activated by someone else to watch a student in the privacy of his/her home without the child student or parent knowing they are being viewed by a stranger, a form of security for the computer?

    What protection is there to prevent someone from watching the child in the privacy of their home, while changing their clothes?

    This may take it to extremes, But Are we talking the possibility of Pedophiles watching young students undress in their homes?

    February 22, 2010 at 4:12 pm |
  39. Ben

    Yes they crossed the line. The school does not have the right to spy on children in their own home. This is beyond invasion of privacy.

    February 22, 2010 at 4:25 pm |
  40. Sue

    Amazing how the Robbins weren't concerned about their right to privacy until their kid was caught doing something illegal! I think the media should start exploring this aspect of the whole case. If the Robbins had handled this quietly instead of contacting all the media, things would have been handled differently, I'm sure. The kid would have gotten in trouble, and the high school might have also looked at their webcam policy, after being threatened with a lawsuit. The Robbins have managed to successfully divert everyone's attention away from their son's wrongdoings, and place full blame on the school system.

    February 22, 2010 at 5:17 pm |
  41. steven

    To Ken:
    You are wrong! an employer is only allowed to access the content on your hard drive, NOT your camera. This is also only allowed after you sign a contract stating you acknowledge they have the right. This is only allowed on office computers, not laptops unless you bring them into the office. The school was wrong. Was this persons laptop reported stolen? If not then the school needs to be punished. By the way, who do you think those laptops belong to? The TAXPAYERS who paid for them so their kids could have them.

    February 22, 2010 at 5:42 pm |
  42. Barbara

    I have 2 grandchildren and 23 great-grand children in school at this time. I would be horrified to learn that their schools had the ability to spy on them at home. We all have a right to privacy in our own homes. We have lost too many of our rights. Where does it end?!!! It seems to me that if the school systems need to be able to locate computers belonging to the school, they could simply put a GPS chip in them. It works in cars with LOJACK (spelling?); why not in the schools' computers. There is no need for them to be able to spy on what the students or their families are doing in their own homes.

    February 22, 2010 at 9:01 pm |
  43. Jim in the Midwest

    The laptop is property of the school. They should stick a notice on the computer that they may be monitored.
    In fact, because of federal law, schools are required to monitor and filter student use of all school computers on the internet.
    Anyone who thinks students are concerned about their privacy has been living in a cave. Parents, take away their cell phones with cameras if you are really concerned about privacy–ever hear of sexting.

    February 22, 2010 at 11:48 pm |
  44. Natasha Snodgrass

    I am a parent of 3 public school children. I have mixed feelings about this issue but wanted to share my thoughts. These computers are issued by the school using government funding and tax payer dollars. How is this any different than a corporation having monitoring (keylogger and blocking software) software on their work computers? It doesn't have anything with "welcome to the world of big brother"! It is, you are using something that is owned by someone else – have have limitations to their usage. The district simply needs to have an agreement that states the computer has web monitoring and GPS on the unit and that you understand that at any time it can be activated. If you're worried about your usage; don't use a school computer, don't break the law, don't violate the rules. It's that simple. What would have happened if this child was taking drugs or overdosed on pills and the parent's found out the school "saw" it? They'd be suing for wrongful death ... you can't have it both ways. Pick one .... IMHO

    February 23, 2010 at 2:21 am |
  45. Natasha Snodgrass

    You said "but outside of the classroom the teachers have no authority over the students. " What about homework? What about school functions? What do you say to employers that test their employees for drug use? While they have no authority over me in my own home – they can randomly test me for drugs and this has been upheld by the supreme court. What if he was popping pills and actually overdosed? Would you then be commending the school district for saving his life? What about parent's that monitor their children in the same way? It's still a violation of privacy... what about alarm systems? They remotely access and view your home. You allow this by signing the contract, the same is with these computers. Use your own at home; use the schools for school work only.

    February 23, 2010 at 2:29 am |
  46. Thomas K. Cole

    Government is misdirected towards wrong goals. Lots of blame dished out lately on news channels and elsewhere concerning broken government. In looking for answers blame is being placed on everybody including voters for not being more responsible, the news channels themselves for too much attention, politicians wanting to get reelected as major priority versus a better government, the money and lobbiest interest, and more. I contend that much of the motivation has to do with the goal of polerization of the parties through house and senate leadership with both parties to take over all three houses of government. Both parties can put a lot of pressure on it's members. Most people are in the middle of liberal and conservative thought, and want to see compromise. There is a reason those in the middle (independents) are growing. Beware U extremists.

    February 23, 2010 at 12:45 pm |
  47. Jeannie

    As a former counsellor and teacher, I Look back on Tiger's behavior and his really, really, really, shallow attempt to apologize. To say it simply, "This guy never grew up". From the time he was a little boy and now into his thirtys...His golfing talents totally outstripped his social development. We learned recently from a suppressed article of the mid-90s that Tiger has long considered himself "entitled" to fleshly pleasures and has regularly cruised the world sowing his wild oats etc. with abandon. For some reason, his upbringing allowed him to be maginally coarse...(he spits, swears, chews, farts, and scratches without conscience)...and gets away with behaviors on the golf course would make Bobby Jones cry out from his grave.
    His obsession with "privacy" seems more like a juvenile way to conceal his proclfivities while hiding his inability to face the public and his fame like a grownup. His recent "heartfelf apology" to me, was stale and contrived five minutes after he delivered it. - But what are we to expect from a spoiled little boy with a billion dollar bank account?

    February 23, 2010 at 1:34 pm |
  48. Ken

    thank you natasha!! you and i are completely on the same page.. I'm glad someone realized what i was saying.. in regards to the person who made a comment about teacher privacy, there is none.. they are a public official using there own computer on there own time posting a picture of themselves on facebook could get them fired!!! welcome to the world of government.. u work for the people, u have no privacy. u get free school, expect no privacy. if parents are not happy, choose private school. if not don't get the free laptop, spend 300 and get them their own.

    February 23, 2010 at 4:31 pm |
  49. Thomas K. Cole

    The students are a treasure we should nuture in our school system. They are our future. A positive format to correct situation is essential, even when those mistakes are made. After teaching 32 years, I have learned that the only people that don't make mistakes are the people that don't do much of anything. Unfortunately, the teacher or administrator is always wrong and respect for teachers and their discipline has declined as a result. It's time we support our schools in a way to make our students respect all authority and grow accordingly.

    February 24, 2010 at 1:15 pm |
  50. Roxana J

    Off course is innapropriate. The students were at home and there is an expectation of privacy. They violated an amendment of the US constitution. However, I tellya what they need to really do is installed live video cams in every darn classroom. There is NO expectations of privacy in the classroom. If that was so, schools could not have volunteers, make fundraising event, students could not go on field trips and chaperones would not be allowed etc. The way that students are killing each other, teachers having sex with elementary school children, raping them, teachers giving students drugs and etc. It is time that we kick out the bad apples and hire people that really want to do the job and can demonstrate this with out being afraid in the classroom. A video cam anywhere else is inappropriate. Mothers should be able to log on into an internet portal and watch their kids behavior and teachers teaching. You should not be afraid to be watch if you are doing the right thing.

    February 25, 2010 at 6:42 pm |