Feds not charging Philadelphia school employees in laptop spying case

Federal prosecutors have decided not to charge employees of the suburban Philadelphia school district who took thousands of webcam photos from laptops issued to students. "We have not found evidence that would establish beyond a reasonable doubt that anyone involved had criminal intent," U.S. Attorney Zane D. Memeger said in a statement. Memeger made the announcement to close the matter before the start of the school year.

Earlier this year a high school student filed a lawsuit against the school district for privacy violations. The school district used a software that took pictures from the webcam to help recover lost or stolen laptops. This lawsuit, which is still ongoing, triggered an investigation by the FBI for possible wiretap violations.

District officials said that the technology department only activated the remote tracking system to recover the laptops that were reported lost or stolen, but sometimes the software would stay activated for week or months, even after the laptop was recovered. In all, the software captured 56,000 webcam images and screen shots from student laptops. According to the AP, none of the images taken appeared to be "salacious or inappropriate."

The districts Superintendent Christopher McGinley said, "We are very pleased with today's decision by the U.S. Attorney's Office, which supports the findings of our internal investigation. This is all good news for the students and staff of Lower Merion School District as we prepare for the start of a new school year." To help ease tension between the district and the public, the school board implemented a new policy that requires written consent from both students and their parents before the use of the tracking software is permitted.

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If the rationale is that this software was running on machines that were supposed to have been stolen, does it make sense that thousands of pictures were being taken and nobody was looking? How would they ever find the machines?

Secondly, if the intent was to recover stolen equipment, why not install something that would allow gps location? Perhaps a picture of the place, or the face of someone using it would be useful, but 56,000??? How does that get you the computer back...and what's up with the screen shots?!

They can torture the truth if they want, but truth is usually simpler and more elegant than lies. The software is designed to keep tabs on the students and to see what they are doing online. Now, wasn't that easy? Doesn't the software make sense NOW?

Take the school's story on its face if you want, but I smell bulls#it.

SCHOOLS ARE SCHOOLS NOT PARENTS.. Thats the thing.. You dont understand, boxers or not, full clothed or not.. THEY ARE SCHOOLS.. They have their days what 7 to 3.. 8 to 3:30 thats it.. THERE IS NO DAMN REASON They should be big brother.. Hell Most the schools we have have child rapists. Thanks TEACHERS for not letting it only in the school districts but into the homes.

Alright kids, when you get your laptop home, ERASE YOUR HARD DRIVE!!! Reinstall Windows, or Linux, whatever you have to do to get your hard drive clean.

WOW, this was a terrible decision. At least privacy charges should have been charged. Do they not remember why this all came into place. The school punished a student for what he was doing at home! It had nothing to do with the laptop being lost/stolen. So obviously even though there are not indecent Screenshots/pictures from the cameras, there was still motivation by the school to police students even out of school.

Hey does it mean i can legally download music and games. I swear i do not have any criminal intent

What the hell I remember this case its totally wrong spying on pupils of a school at home or at school is a violation.

Here is a piece of information that has been COMPLETELY overlooked, the systems were only activated on systems that were "claimed" lost or stolen. That means, they are unable to verify that the systems are in use or have been stolen from students. I know that teenage kids don't always think when it comes to things that don't belong to them (or they have paid for themselves). i'm from PA, and know how the school districts are cash-strapped and I'm all for the system being in place to attempt to recover the hardware that could have been stolen/lost.

Personally, I think it's a great idea and more school districts should do that with hardware that can be removed from the building. What's wrong with it if there was no criminal intent with the software?? Until then, people need to think about what's being stolen/lost and the means to recover that hardware/money for that hardware.

I think the question here is if the students and guardians were informed of the software's existance. If the school district straight up told them, "Hey, this computer is going to take your picture if it thinks it was stolen, so act like you're at school when you've got it open. If you don't like it, get your own computer," then yeah, I've got no problem with it.

Deadman_Raziel said,
Here is a piece of information that has been COMPLETELY overlooked, the systems were only activated on systems that were "claimed" lost or stolen. That means, they are unable to verify that the systems are in use or have been stolen from students. I know that teenage kids don't always think when it comes to things that don't belong to them (or they have paid for themselves). i'm from PA, and know how the school districts are cash-strapped and I'm all for the system being in place to attempt to recover the hardware that could have been stolen/lost.

Personally, I think it's a great idea and more school districts should do that with hardware that can be removed from the building. What's wrong with it if there was no criminal intent with the software?? Until then, people need to think about what's being stolen/lost and the means to recover that hardware/money for that hardware.

That's all fine and dandy, but why did the system remain active on those laptops after they were reclaimed? It should have been disabled, so no spying would have taken place.

Metodi Mitov said,

That's all fine and dandy, but why did the system remain active on those laptops after they were reclaimed? It should have been disabled, so no spying would have taken place.

I understand and agree. But sometimes the software doesn't always work perfectly every time. I am an IT professional, and agree that the parents/students should have been directly notified. But I find it hard to believe that there's not a "Terms of service" or something along those lines that state that this software is in place for hardware recovery of school property. No, it shouldn't have continued to function after the "system" was recovered and deactivated. But, windows isn't perfect, no software is. NOT at all saying that it's justified that it happened, but the reasoning for it being there is. I believe there is a difference between "Spying" and what happened in this instance. Calling it "spying" would assume intent for it to take place, wanton desire for it to take place, and would be more likely to be directly traceable to a specific person/group of people where the pics would have been more explicit I'm sure.

Deadman_Raziel said,
Here is a piece of information that has been COMPLETELY overlooked, the systems were only activated on systems that were "claimed" lost or stolen. That means, they are unable to verify that the systems are in use or have been stolen from students. I know that teenage kids don't always think when it comes to things that don't belong to them (or they have paid for themselves). i'm from PA, and know how the school districts are cash-strapped and I'm all for the system being in place to attempt to recover the hardware that could have been stolen/lost.

Personally, I think it's a great idea and more school districts should do that with hardware that can be removed from the building. What's wrong with it if there was no criminal intent with the software?? Until then, people need to think about what's being stolen/lost and the means to recover that hardware/money for that hardware.

Just to make this clear, but that is the school's excuse NOW... At the time, they felt it was entirely within their power to servail students and write them up for behavior IN THEIR OWN HOME that the school felt was inappropriate... I personally do not buy this newest story, particularly because it is NEW...

Remember, this is a political decison (not a judicial one). This is the same group of C-class political appointees (United States Attorneys are apointed by the President) that will gladly investigate those of the opposite leaning/agenda. (Note that I didn't single out Obama Administration appointees, as this is common *period*, regardless of which political party holds the Presidency.) They only investigate their own when the wrongdoing is rather obvious/egregious (Blagojevich).

PGHammer said,
Remember, this is a political decison (not a judicial one). This is the same group of C-class political appointees (United States Attorneys are apointed by the President) that will gladly investigate those of the opposite leaning/agenda. (Note that I didn't single out Obama Administration appointees, as this is common *period*, regardless of which political party holds the Presidency.) They only investigate their own when the wrongdoing is rather obvious/egregious (Blagojevich).

Unfortunate, but true. They protect their own.

So, no crime was committed because there was no criminal intent huh? I take it that means that spying on people in their own homes without their consent is therefore a legal activity and only becomes a problem if you are doing with some illegal activity in mind.

A bit like doing 100mph is actually legal if you just want to get home quickly, but illegal if you're doing it just to break the speed limit. </sarcasm>

Doesn't make sense....I just don't get it, might as well let the teachers come to the parents house and peak through the kids window.

Biglo said,
Doesn't make sense....I just don't get it, might as well let the teachers come to the parents house and peak through the kids window.

They don't already?

We do not know all of the evidence, but I cannot imagine a reason that 56,000 webcam pictures and screenshots were taken without authorization and student knowledge, for a good reason.

None of the 56,000 pictures that remained in the system appeared to be "salacious or inappropriate," but I know I have certainly walked in front of my own open laptop with little thought of what I am doing, such as after taking a shower. I imagine that at least a handful of HS students do as the laptop is likely the center of their world at the time (versus the people like us that also have a primary desktop machine in the same space). At 56,000 shots, I'd say it would have been against the odds NOT to catch a student in their underwear or less at least once.

I also wonder if there was any live streaming being done by the PA District employees. I guess we'll never know unless it comes out in the civil case.

pickypg said,
We do not know all of the evidence, but I cannot imagine a reason that 56,000 webcam pictures and screenshots were taken without authorization and student knowledge, for a good reason.

None of the 56,000 pictures that remained in the system appeared to be "salacious or inappropriate," but I know I have certainly walked in front of my own open laptop with little thought of what I am doing, such as after taking a shower. I imagine that at least a handful of HS students do as the laptop is likely the center of their world at the time (versus the people like us that also have a primary desktop machine in the same space). At 56,000 shots, I'd say it would have been against the odds NOT to catch a student in their underwear or less at least once.

I also wonder if there was any live streaming being done by the PA District employees. I guess we'll never know unless it comes out in the civil case.

What's to say said "salacious or inappropriate" pictures haven't been removed from their storage immediately upon receipt and are now the highlight of one or more teachers' masturbating practices?

Not to mention that when the original thing blew up, there were numerous mentions about student pictures in different states of undress. I don't see how that isn't salacious or inappropriate.

pickypg said,
We do not know all of the evidence, but I cannot imagine a reason that 56,000 webcam pictures and screenshots were taken without authorization and student knowledge, for a good reason.

None of the 56,000 pictures that remained in the system appeared to be "salacious or inappropriate," but I know I have certainly walked in front of my own open laptop with little thought of what I am doing, such as after taking a shower. I imagine that at least a handful of HS students do as the laptop is likely the center of their world at the time (versus the people like us that also have a primary desktop machine in the same space). At 56,000 shots, I'd say it would have been against the odds NOT to catch a student in their underwear or less at least once.

I also wonder if there was any live streaming being done by the PA District employees. I guess we'll never know unless it comes out in the civil case.

I have to agree. The odds of them NOT capturing something like that are really not in their favor here. Plus, high school students, I'm sure, took these laptops right to their bedrooms...

Though I don't feel there was any intent here, just stupidity, I can't imagine nothing was found in 56,000 images...

Rudy said,
It's a shame they really should be charged

I don't know. I think it was more stupidity than anything... Certainly not intent... I'll be happy if they lose the lawsuits the students have filed (Which they DO deserve to lose)...