- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 4, 2010

They see you when you’re sleeping, they know when you’re awake. No, we’re not talking about Santa Claus and his elves; this is a school district in Pennsylvania. The parents of Blake Robbins, 15, filed a class-action suit against the Lower Merion School District in Ardmore, Pa., for the district’s use of secretly installed laptop webcams to spy on their son and other students.

@$: Harriton Senior High School in Bryn Mawr, Pa., operated remote-activated cameras in each of the Mac laptops issued to the district’s 2,300 high school students. Parents Michael E. Robbins and Holly S. Robbins learned that a spy cam was used in their home after an assistant principal referenced a still shot of Blake taken while the teen was at home on the computer. Citing what she said looked like his on-camera ingestion of a suspicious-looking pill, the school official told the teenager the picture appeared to depict him “engaged in improper behavior in his home,” according to the complaint. Blake told Philadelphia’s KYW-TV, “She thought that I was selling drugs.”

The item in question was, in fact, Mike & Ike candy, according to the Robbins family, but that’s beside the point. These webcams constitute an egregious violation of privacy and perhaps an illegal search and illegal wiretapping. Pennsylvania has some strict laws on the books. Police officers in the state are prohibited from eavesdropping unless doing so is for the “furtherance of a criminal investigation,” according to the Web site of Pennsylvania State Attorney General Tom Corbett. And in those cases, there are restrictions in place.

The school district said only two officials were authorized to turn the webcams on and off, and only then to aid in the location of missing laptops. But that’s hardly what the assistant principal was doing. Indeed, if the intentions behind the installation of the cameras were so innocuous, it’s curious why the school district neglected to share information about the cameras with the parents of the students to whom it lent computers. The whole operation is creepy. Hopefully no one spying on these teenagers is a pervert.

This spying by schools might be an isolated incident, but then again, it might not be. Creeping Big Brotherism, unopposed, will invade privacy wherever it is permitted. This is where our country is headed if Americans don’t tell out-of-control government, “Enough is enough.”

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