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back to article Spycam school to pay damages for kiddie snaps

The US school which used laptop cameras to spy on its students has agreed to pay damages to settle a civil suit brought as a result of the scandal. The Lower Merion School District in Philadelphia used tracking software from LanRev and laptops' internal cameras to take covert pictures of students. The school has now agreed to …

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No charges...

Which is the bit I find amazing. Surely, somewhere, somebody should be going to jail for this massive invasion of privacy.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: No charges...

So no sex offenders register over there then?

I'm sure if this happened here, there would be names being added to it!!

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Mens Rea

It's there for a reason.

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Anonymous Coward

Lawyers

"The school has now agreed to pay $175,000 (£110,000) to Blake Robins, one of the students, $10,000 (£6,300) to Jalil Hassan and $425,000 (£268,000) to their lawyers."

Ahh, so the lawyers were the real victims. Good stuff.

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Indeed

Poor darlings

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Well...

They're not poor any more.

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Unhappy

Transaltion

By not going to court we avoid being shown up as utter pricks, and don't have to sack anyone.

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If it smells like a rat...

"Federal prosecutors decided not to press charges because they found there was no criminal intent."

Yet if perfy pete does the same thing, they throw away the key.

Perhaps some of that $425K paid to the lawyers fixes that minor inconvenience.

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also...

Lack of criminal intent does not mean no offence has been committed.

You can easily commit a criminal offence without intending to.

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Hmmm...

"Federal prosecutors decided not to press charges because they found there was no criminal intent."

That must mean they're going to leave Gary McKinnon alone, now...

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Anonymous Coward

awesome

really awesome. little Timmy won't have new textbooks this year because little Jimmy's parents sued the school.

To make this clear before i get flamed: I don't agree with the heinous invasion of privacy. But equally I don't agree with suing the school. Prosecute.

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Not flaming, just commenting

@AC: It looks like the damages and costs were paid by the school's insurers, who also took the decision not to defend the case further. I dare say insurance premiums will rise for this school and perhaps all schools as a result, and it's possible that the school will have paid an excess, but I don't suppose either amount will have the kind of impact you imply.

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Agreed^2

Quite right. Suing the public purse is pointless -- prosecute, or at the very least sack and ban from ever working with children again.

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But

They're not prosecuting.

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Anonymous Coward

I do not like

The involvement of insurers in law.

Insurers are not interested in justice, only in costs.

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re: awesome

Which part of "Federal prosecutors decided not to press charges because they found there was no criminal intent." did you fail to understand?

A civil case was the only option left open to the parents.

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Big Brother

58,000

Fifty. Eight. Thousand. Photos. And no criminal intent.

So what *was* their intent? What did they think they were doing it for? That's not any kind of casual operation, it must have had some specific reason.

If it wasn't to get photos of undressed students, then the only thing that seems to make sense is that they were spying on students simply because they could.

They had the ability to watch students without them knowing, so they just went ahead and did so. Presumably convincing themselves that they were in charge of the students and supposed to look after them so it was OK to do this.

After all, children don't have any real rights, and the school knows what's best for them better than they or their parents do.

Grab all the information possible, just in case someone somewhere is doing something you don't approve of.

That would certainly fit with the way they were found out. They saw a student eating something and decided "Oh! It must be Drugs!". Because that's how they were justifying it to themselves - that they might spot just that kind of thing happening, and could Save that poor child.

And they'd persuaded themselves of this so much that they went ahead and accused him, and blew the whole thing. They had convinced themselves so strongly that they were justified that they didn't realise the rest of the world might not agree.

It's for their Own Good!

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Big Brother

>what was the intent

I expect... they'll tell you it was an accidental feature of the software left on by a developer and turned on by accident. After all that worked for Google...

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Stop

Sir

No criminal intent.

So, let me get this principle straight in my mind.

Massive invasion of privacy.

Got found out.

Reason given: protecting the public (of course).

No criminal intent there, so no prosecution, even though the law was clearly broken.

Hmm, I can't see how that principle could undermine anything, so go right ahead. If it looks like a dead rat that chocked on a rotten piece of fish, and smells like one too, then it probably is.

They can't give people the real reasons for these things, otherwise they'd have something concrete to rally against. Better to slowly boil that frog.

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She told me she was 18 officer

No criminal intent there? Awesome.

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FAIL

Wow, FAIL!

Jebus almighty, it's like the Daily Mail comments page in here!

Ok, so which criminal statutory provision do you think they are in breach of? Having stated that* you now need to show mens rea and actus reus. AR may be moderately straightforward (depending on which statutory provision you picked) but MR can be extremely hard to prove BEYOND REASONABLE DOUBT. Sometimes negligence is enough, sometimes it ain't. Ofc you all know this and work as CPS officers/state prosecutors.....Oh wait...

As to AC (she told me she was 18 officer) - two words : strict liability.

Re: the facts of the case - to even know if what the school did was reasonable you'd need to know where the pics were taken (at the kids homes, at school, or both?), what triggered the taking of the pics (prohibited activity, just logging on to the PC?), what T&Cs the PCs were issued subject to, the age of the kids, if the parents signed paperwork prior to the issue of the PCs, what that paperwork (if any) said and the rather complicated contract law argument as to whether the parents were bound by all of the terms of that paperwork, how the pics were stored, how long for and for what purpose, etc.

Without that it's just a bunch of ppl thinking "shit, if that was me they'd have pics of me wanking off over Justin Beiber! I better argue against it!!!"

</rant> I'm off to take the lithium now...

---

*lolz, I know - nobody bothered, they were too busy thinking of the children.

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well...

...if you bothered to look into the case a little you'd know the kids were photographed at home and there certainly wasn't a signed contract with parents to let them do so! The "criminal intent" was the deliberate invasion of privacy in the first place, never mind what was or wasn't done with the images, but hey, they're kids so the don't have any rights. That's why the school was sued, because of the failure of the police to make a case, when in reality the local DA should have been over this like a rash, but then who knows what other skeletons these 'public servants' have in their closet that could have come out in court?

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WTF?

@Ross7

Ah, lack of intent doesn't _usually_ inhibit prosecutors in the US. The prisons are stuffed with people serving lengthy sentences for what would, in civilized countries, be considered accidents. This case was no accident - they didn't accidentally leave the cameras on and accidentally record thousands of covert pictures of juveniles, so intent is a no-brainer. Normally in America the prosecution would threaten them with 5000 years in jail, and let them plea-bargain it down to a year, a year's income fine and life on the sex offenders list. That they didn't do so in this case is pure politics, and deserves to be protested.

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Why does one kid get so much more?

"The school has now agreed to pay $175,000 (£110,000) to Blake Robins, one of the students, $10,000 (£6,300) to Jalil Hassan and $425,000 (£268,000) to their lawyers."

Is there a reason why one kid gets £110 000 and the other only gets £6300? That seems a bit off. Is there some background reason I'm unaware of?

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Black Helicopters

maybe..

Am guessing the answer to that is connected with this statement:

"Although we would have valued the opportunity to finally share an important, untold story in the courtroom..."

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Joke

One kid was doing his homework...

...and the other was having 40 flicks over the kitchen sink.

-Well, adolescents will be adolescents.

However, I suspect the former got the most, for being an 'industrious student' whereas the sink-botherer got the least, based on 'homework length'.

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"Lawyers rake in most of the cash"

and this is news?

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Grenade

My advice to parents in the UK

When asking about tech safety things is to disable the camera with some sandpaper and then super glue over the lens.

Loads of sites ask kids to enable flash access to their camera, youtube.com probably being the least nasty and working gradually downwards.

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WTF?

No criminal intent? Really?

They went to an awful lot of effort to do what they did 58,000 times. Its seems a few of this times would be likely to have involved minors with their kit off, something that should have been rather obvious to anyone who thought it through. Since a fair few people were involved in conceiving, approving and setting this up it seems unreasonable to suggest that no one guessed a few laws would be broken - yet they proceeded anyway.

I'm fairly stunned by the combative statement from the schools weasel-in-chief; I would have thought a bit of contrite humble pie consumption might have been more appropriate than a broad hint they were right all along.

Prosecutions or no, anyone remotely involved in seriously distasteful crap like this should never be allowed near schools, other human beings or public office again.

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That untold story...

"Although we would have valued the opportunity to finally share an important, untold story in the courtroom, we recognise that in this case, a lengthy, costly trial would benefit no one. It would have been an unfair distraction for our students and staff and it would have cost taxpayers additional dollars that are better devoted to education."

Translation: The school still thinks it was justified, so it wanted to go to court, but its lawyers know better, so the insurance company pulled the plug.

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Anonymous Coward

Translation: ...so the insurance company pulled the plug.

Not only that, you can bet the Lower Merion school district will now be paying much higher premiums for it's tort liability insurance from here on out.

School boards in Pennsylvania are elected, and most of their funding comes from property taxes that the school districts there levy on real-estate owners located within the district. Pennsylvania's personal income tax is much lower than other easter US states, and the state's contribution to school district revenue represents a much smaller proportion of school district budgets, relative to other eastern states which have higher income taxes but also contribute more money at the state level to public education, thus helping to keep their local property taxes significantly lower than is normal in Pennsylvania.

The net effect is that local property owners in Lower Merion will pay a larger chunk of the cost of their school district's mistake than they might have elsewhere. These people vote as well as pay property taxes, so I expect there will be good turnouts at the next few local elections involving school board members. With US voters, the general political mantra today is "when in doubt, throw the bums out".

Expect tears in some quarters.

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Anonymous Coward

Wrong action

It's interesting that the school had to be sued - I would have expected a criminal prosecution to take place for the violation of privacy, and taking pictures of minors. After all, you can't take a picture of your own kids anymore without some idiot accusing you of being a pedophile so I find the leniency staggering.

Actually, to do it right the prosecution should be for the idiot who took the decision to go ahead with this, that way you don't remove resources from the school itself.

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Big Brother

The inconceivable federal prosecutors argument is utterly implausible.

So I have to ask why are the federal prosecutors so adamantly clinging to such an implausible argument?

Or more to the point, who is pressuring the federal prosecutors into giving this implausible argument?

Who stands to loose if this case was prosecuted as criminal intent?

Could it be the federal prosecutors didn't press charges because they knew that would have created a legal precedent against state workers spying. So they diverted it into becoming just a civil law case.

A legal precedent against state workers spying would have helped stop future acts of state spying. So its very interesting the federal prosecutors chose not to create that legal precedent.

The way privacy is being killed off around the world these days, people very much need more protection against increasing spying, so its very interesting the federal prosecutors chose not to create a legal precedent that would have helped increase people's privacy.

Therefore sadly it looks like they really do want more state spying. :(

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Alert

"Lawyers rake in most of the cash"

Sounds like a non-story then.

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FAIL

Untold Story

"finally share an important, untold story in the courtroom"

If the "untold story" is so relevant, why isn't it being told!!!! There's no requirement for the story only to be told in the courtroom - why not just tell us it then we can continue the "trial by media" and decide if the school was guilty or not.

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WTF?

FFS!

1. 2300 laptops Installed with spy software!

2. The software was enabled!

3. Collected X thousands of pictures!

Decision? There was "NO INTENT"??!?!

Just staggering! Just, absolutely freaking mind-blowing!

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but...

There may well have been intent, the issue I suspect is proof of said intent.

Can you prove that this was the result of the school wanting to gather this info, or was it a monumental cock up with some features enabled without thought/knowledge/understanding of the implications?

The decision to prosecute would be based on evidence available and I suspect that without a whistle blower within the school all you really have is speculation... (and a shed load of pictures)

...........

Just lucky no one in the school had organised the pics into Fit/Munter Directories.

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Big Brother

Title

"1. 2300 laptops Installed with spy software!

2. The software was enabled!

3. Collected X thousands of pictures!

Decision? There was "NO INTENT"??!?!

Just staggering! Just, absolutely freaking mind-blowing!"

Well the next time you take a picture of a minor you can also say there was no criminal intent... I'm sure that'll work, after all, the goverment did it..

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WTF?

A criminal monumental cock-up...

...is still criminal. If I monumentally cock-up firing a handgun in a mall, I'm still doing 5-10 for (at least) involuntary manslaughter.

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No buts!

"Can you prove that this was the result of the school wanting to gather this info, or was it a monumental cock up with some features enabled without thought/knowledge/understanding of the implications?"

To receive and store 58.000 photographs you need an infrastructure. Those photos use a good chunk of hdd real state, and needed a lot of bandwidth just to reach the school. So yeah, there were lots of people who knew about the photos being taken and stored, and lots of people who watched those photos -as stated by some articles on this subject. The "no criminal intent" part is just crap, as every fucking body knows that spying on someone at his own home and taking/storing the photographs obtained is totally illegal.

If any particular citizen did the same even in a much smaller scale he would be in the slammer for decades, and with good reason. These 'public servants' got Scott free and had their constituents paying the bill. It stinks.

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Unhappy

I'm gobsmacked...

and furious.

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Big Brother

So what was their "intent"...?

Obviously someone was THINKING OF TEH CHILDREN!!!111111!!!oneoneeleventyone1!!11!!

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Flame

Guys... get a grip

Before all of you keep posting at this outrageous invasion of privacy and the criminal intent, why dont you find out WHY the pictures were taken?

The laptops contained software to help them combat theft. System takes pictures every 15mins and I assume broadcasts them when it is believed the laptop is stolen. The issue was that the some of the pictures were triggered when they shouldnt have been , ie a laptop werent stolen. One case was because the student had not renewed the insurance allowing him to take the laptop off campus and when the laptop went off campus it started snapping.

Thats why there is no criminal intent. It is also probably why there were probably few students that got paid out.

Cant say I like it but it isnt some pervi scam that many of you are suggesting so get a grip!

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WTF?

Are you for real?

58,000 pictures, some of which were indeed used for reasons unconnected to what you suggest.

It's repulsive behaviour and there should have also been criminal prosecutions, certainly anyone involved in the decisions should be sacked.

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really?

How do you know that there was no criminal intent or pervy scheme? An investigation was never really completed. Pervy principles and teachers do exist, you know.

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But who else...

... was looking at the pics and also "getting a grip"?!

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Pirate

Pirates in suits

"a lengthy, costly trial would benefit no one. ".... except the lawyers I would think. The mind-boggling thing is that even with a settlement avoiding a lengthy, costly trial, "the school's insurers had already spent $1.2m". And "The school has now agreed to pay $175,000 to Blake Robins, $10,000 to Jalil Hassan and $425,000 to their lawyers." (Total $610,000, with presumably the bulk of the other $590k going to the school's lawyers). So just over 15% of the payout went to the injured parties, and 80-odd% to the sharks.

Way to go, justice! Not.

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intent

It was part of a standard security system to track the laptop if it was stolen, the admin was supposed to not look at any of the pictures unless a machine was stolen.

They were handing out a couple of million quids worths of macbooks.

And the parents presumably agreed to this with some click through EULA

So no criminal intent - bloody stupid - but not criminal.

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<forsythe>Didn't they do well??<forsythe>

"The school has now agreed to pay $175,000 (£110,000) to Blake Robins, one of the students, $10,000 (£6,300) to Jalil Hassan and $425,000 (£268,000) to their lawyers."

Oh, Bloody Hell. Lawyers got more. Than both the 'hurt' victims.

Effing surprise there...

I'm sorry, I'm fuc*king gobsmacked. But, being in the USA, I can easily believe it.

O, and @ Pahhh. So I guess you know completely what they were doing when the camera snapped them. Bit of "How's your Father" with another college mate, Campus, or Camp, doesn't really matter. Or exploring the 'heavens' with the handy help of Joddrell Bank....

Pah. Back of my hand to yer.

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