Lower Merion laptop flap: District deactivates tracking feature

The Lower Merion School District said it has deactivated a tracking feature on student laptops that allowed officials to potentially violate family privacy. In an FAQ, the district also denied it was spying on students as alleged in a lawsuit.

The Lower Merion School District said it has deactivated a tracking feature on student laptops that allowed officials to potentially violate family privacy. In an FAQ, the district also denied it was spying on students as alleged in a lawsuit.

On Thursday, news over a student lawsuit against the Pennsylvania school district raged (Techmeme).

The civil suit (PDF) was filed last week against the Lower Merion School District in Ardmore, PA, its board of directors and the Superintendent. It alleges violations of the electronic Communications Privacy Act, The Computer Fraud Abuse Act, the Stored Communications Act, the Civil Rights Act, the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, the Pennsylvania Wiretapping and Electronic Surveillance Act and Pennsylvania Common Law.

Students allege that educators violated their privacy with "indiscriminant use of and ability to remotely activate the webcams incorporated into each laptop issued to students by the School District."

In an FAQ document, Dr. Christopher McGinley, Superintendent of the Lower Merion School District, tried to clear the air. The key points include:

  • The district has disabled the tracking system and won't reactivate it without permission;
  • The tracking feature was included on the roughly 1,800 Apple PCs provided to high school students.
  • And the tracking feature "has only been used for the limited purpose of locating a lost, stolen or missing laptop. The District has not used the tracking feature or web cam for any other purpose or in any other manner whatsoever."

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