School District Avoids Criminal Charges in MacBook Spying Case

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Federal authorities have decided against filing criminal charges in an investigation into allegations that a Pennsylvania school district used the built-in cameras on Mac laptops to spy on students at home. Federal prosecutors along with the FBI said they weren’t able to prove that Lower Merion School District employees acted criminally, according to the Associated Press.

“We have not found evidence that would establish beyond a reasonable doubt that anyone involved had criminal intent,” commented U.S. Attorney Zane D. Memeger.

The school district was understandably pleased with the investigation outcome. “We are very pleased with today’s decision by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, which supports the findings of our internal investigation,” said Superintendent Christopher W. McGinley.

The investigation was opened after students claimed they were being spyed on at home via the iSight cameras that are built into their school-issued MacBook computers. The school district had installed software on the laptops that could allow employees to remotely activate the cameras, although the intent was to use the feature only if the computers were reported lost or stolen.

The school district is still facing a civil lawsuit filed bvy parents of the students. The suit alleges school district employees remotely activated the cameras on several of the issued laptops and captured images of students at home asleep or partially dressed.

In one instance, a student was confronted by an assistant principal over “improper behavior” at home based on an image captured from his laptop.

The civil suit was filed in U.S. District Court and claims the district’s practice of remotely activating laptop iSight cameras violates student’s civil rights and is also a violation of state and federal wiretapping laws.



I’m disappointed that the school district isn’t going to face criminal charges for this. Software of this sort should only be used to recover stolen property, and someone clearly decided to use it to confront a student, besides the fact that they were negligent in turning it off (criminally negligent?). In addition to the decision to require parental permission to activate the webcam, there should be some kind of two-person rule guarding access, so no one person can choose to misuse it.

One fact from the AP article that I hadn’t heard before: the student hadn’t paid the fee required for students to take their laptops home. This could excuse the school for treating it as stolen and activating the webcam.

Lee Dronick

There are still civil suits pending, a jury may come to a different conclusion.

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