I Spy With My Eye

A couple of months ago, a Philadelphia school district was presented with a law suit. Why is this different? Well, in this case the school district is being accused of spying on their students.

The district allowed webcams to activate when a school-issued laptop has been reported stolen or missing. Once the laptop is reported, a picture is taken of the person using the laptop AND the computer screen. The picture can then be used to locate the device, and so on and so forth. The idea seems simple enough, right?

Wrong. The parents of a student, Blake Robbins, were outraged when they recieved a notice from the  principal of the school stated he witnessed their son “doing something inappropriate.” Robbins’ parents were furious and filed a suit under the protection of electronic-privacy.

The laptop in Robbins possession was never reported missing or stolen so what probable cause did the school district have in invading his privacy? None.

Experts in electronic privacy law believe the district’s actions could amount to illegal wiretapping.


I understand that the issue is with a school district and not a college, so the requirements  and rules are different. But to what extent do we enforce students to give up their rights to privacy when an immediate danger isn’t present?

Should the school be allowed to use this feature at all? And if they are, should they be held legally accountable for abusing it?


3 thoughts on “I Spy With My Eye

  1. The issue here is whether the students have been informed that the camera will only activate if the computer is stolen. This student clearly didn’t steal the laptop or were there reports issued of it being stolen. If the school sets the policy that it will only be activated if the computer is stolen, then that is the only time I see it fit to be able to take a picture. If not, this is definitely a violation of privacy. The school should have little investment in what the student does away from school at home. I feel as long as the electronic is returned and taken care of, what does it matter the student’s behavior at home while having the computer in possession. This camera shouldn’t be used for any other purposes than monitoring theft.

  2. Theft, loss, breaking are risks you run when you lend expensive property to students. Does this risk give schools a right to spy on their students? Um, no. Why would they need to take a photo of the student, anyway? More importantly, wouldn’t it be a more effective system to have the students sign out the computers or scan them like a library card… that way one student is responsible for the product? I feel like spying should be a LAST resort. This school used it because they could, because it was easy. Rooting for the Robbins.

  3. This is without a doubt Orwellian, and this time the term is used correctly.

    If that happened to me, I’d have sued the pants off the district.

    I agree with Carla. What do they need the picture for? They have software nowadays that can activate and locate the computer when stolen. Maybe the picture taken was not the person who took it.

    The law already turns pretty much two blind eyes when it comes to schools. It’s time we stop giving these bastards excuses to infringe upon the rights of students.

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