(updated)Lower Merion School Webcam SnooperGate, PA-06, Welcome to TerraWar, Kids!

(10 am. – promoted by ek hornbeck)

(ARC note: Multiple edits were made to this because the Lower Merion Township, PA School District website, where this correspondence was posted publicly, did not allow the text to be cut and pasted successfully into this format, so I retyped all of it and did not hyperlink. )

(Update Mon April 19, 2010, 8:25 pm see end of story)

(PA-06. It’s not the Onion.  It’s my in- law’s congressional district.  I live in CA. That way they can’t visit easily. )

Feb 18, 2010  Lower Merion School District Initial Response to Invasion of Privacy Allegation (yes, it says that right on their School’s webpage at www.lmsd.org  )  


Dear LMSD Community,

Last year, our school district became one of the first school systems in the United States to provide laptop computers to all high school students. This initiative has been well received and has provided educational benefits to our students. The District is dedicated to protecting and promoting student privacy.  The laptops do contain a security feature  intended to track lost, stolen, and missing laptops. This feature has been deactivated effective today.

/snip

We regret if this situation has caused any concern or inconvenience among our students and families. We are reviewing the matter and will provide an additional update as soon as information becomes available.

Sincerely,  

Dr. Christopher McGinley,

Superintendent

Feb 18, 2010,  Excerpt, Letter from Superintendent Dr McGinley to Parents/Guardians Regarding Laptop Security


www.lmsd.org/sections/laptops/    id =1138

District laptops do contain a security feature intended to track lost, stolen, and missing laptops. The Security feature, which was disabled today, was installed to help locate a laptop in the event it was reported lost, missing, or stolen so that the laptop could be returned to the student.

Upon a report of a suspected lost, stolen, or missing laptop, the feature would be activated by the District’s security and technology departments. The security feature’s capabilities were limited to taking a still image of the operator and the operator’s screen. This feature was only used for the narrow purpose of locating a lost, stolen, or missing laptop. The district never activated the security feature for any other purpose or in any other manner whatsoever.

As a result of our preliminary review of the security features today, I directed the following actions:

     • Immediate disabling of the security tracking program

/snip

We regret if this situation has caused any concern or inconvenience among our student and families

Sincerely,

Dr Christoper McGinley  Superintendent of Schools Lower Merion School District

___

Update from Dr. McGinley regarding high school student laptop security –  2/19/2010

10 pm Feb 19, 2010

www.lmsd.org/sections/laptops/default    id= 1143


Dear LMSD  Parents/Guardians,

Yesterday I reported to you on the early phases of the school district’s response to questions raised about the security – tracking software feature that was installed on student laptop computers.

/snip

In this regard, we have retained the services of Henry E. Hockeimer, Jr., Esq., a local attorney and former federal prosecutor, to assist in our comprehensive review of relevant policies and past practices, as well as assist us in implementing appropriate improvements.

Despite some reports to the contrary, be assured that the security – tracking software has been completely disabled.  As I noted yesterday, this feature was limited to taking a still image of the computer user and an image of the desktop in order to help locate the reported missing, lost, or stolen computer.

/snip

…….   there was no explicit notification that the laptop contained the security software.  This notice should have been given and we regret that this was not done.  

Sincerely,

Dr Christopher W. McGinley

___

Feb 21, 2010  Update for Dr McGinley – statement from special outside counsel


www.lmsd.org/sections/laptops/   id=1145

Dear Parents/Guardians

On Friday, I informed you by email that the District had retained the services of Henry E. Hockeimer, Jr., Esq., a local attorney and former legal prosecutor

/snip

“We ( Ballard Spahr LLC )  have been retained by the Lower Merion School Board to thoroughly and expeditiously investigate facts related to the history and use of a certain security softward application. We will report our findings to the Board.   To the extend any mistakes were made we will make recommendations for any needed changes in policies and procedures.  The District will also cooperate fully with any law enforcement requests for information…. ”

Sincerely,

Dr. Christopher McGinley

___


www.lmsd.org/sections/laptops/      id=1150

Statement regarding U.S. District Court order for February 22, 2010

The following statement was released by the (Lower Merion) District earlier today:

We are pleased that it was unnecessary for the Court to issue an injunction, as the Plaintiff had requested. The District had already disabled the security feature in all student laptops and has demonstrated good faith in its continued cooperation with the Federal inquiry. For further information, please visit www.lmsd.org

____

___________


www. lmsd.org/sections/laptops/default     id=1176

The following are opening remarks by David Elby, LMSD Board President at the March 8, 2010 School Board Meeting

(excerpt)

As has been previously reported, upon learning of the allegations, Dr. McGinley immediately disabled the security application of the LANrev software.  In addition, the Board authorized a full investigation into both the allegations and the District’s practices and procedures with respect to the lap top program.  The investigation is being led by Hank Hockeimer of the law firm Ballard Spahr LLP.  Hank who is a District resident and has a child in our schools, is a former federal prosecutor and has extensive experience in performing investigations such as this one.

The computer forensic examination is being performed by L- 3 communications.  L – 3 Communications is a publicly traded corporation that specializes in all aspects of information technology.  Included on the L – 3 team handling the investigation are former members of the FBI and other intelligence and law enforcement agencies. We have also asked the investigative team to evaluate and recommend changes tot he District’s practices and procedures for the use and operation of computers.

The investigation is now in its third week.

It is estimated that the investigation will take approximately four more weeks.

_____

April 13, 2010, update/statement from Lower Merion SD Board President Ebby


www.lmsd.org/sections/laptops/default    id=1218

This review has included the interviews of over 30 witnesses and the review of hundreds of thousands of documents, primarily emails and an analysis of the LANrev database.  This analysis continues, and we are hopeful that a report from the investigative team will be available to the public in the next few weeks.

We are able to share tonight the following information:

    1. The investigation has uncovered no evidence of intentional misuse of the LANrev tracking feature.

    2. The investigation has confirmed that there were fewer than 50 activations during the current school year that would have resulted in photos, IP address identification and the capture of a desktop screenshot.  

_____

________

April 16, 2010  Update from Board President David Ebby


from www.lmsd.org/sections/laptops

Dear LMSD Parents/Guardians

As you know, our outside counsel and a computer forensic/computer security expert have been investigating the circumstances surrounding the use of the LANrev “tracking feature. They will provide us their findings in the next few weeks and we will release them to you. We will do so regardless of whether or not we resolve the Robbins litigation. On April 14, 2010,  two days ago, the Court issued an Order mapping out events that we hope will lead to a resolution of the litigation.  All parties agreed to the framework set forth in the Court’s Order.  

Indeed, a meeting among the Robbin’s counsel, the proposed intervener’s counsel and our counsel is scheduled for this afternoon. A Motion filed yesterday by the plaintiffs ostensibly was against Carol Cafiero, but instead appears to be a vehicle to attack the District.  We do not feel it is appropriate for anyone other than the investigators to dictate the timing of the investigation and the release of complete findings.  As we have made clear since day  one, we are committed to providing all the facts, good and bad, at the conclusion of the investigation. In light of what has been raised by plaintiff’s counsel, however, we feel it is critically important to provide immediate clarification regarding key items. A substantial number of webcam photos have been recovered from the investigation. We have proposed a process to Judge DuBois whereby each family of a student whose image appears in any such photo will be notified and given the opportunity to view such photographs. Our counsel proposed that Chief Magistrate Judge Thomas Rueter handle that process.  While our counsel has not yet met with Judge Rueter, Judge DuBois has agreed that such a process makes sense.  We hope to start that process shortly. During that process the privacy of all students will be strongly protected.

Also, the plaintiff’s Motion suggests that the LANrev tracking feature may have been used for the purposes of “spying” on students. While we deeply regret the mistakes and misguided actions that have led to this situation, at this late stage of the investigation we are not aware of any evidence that District employees used any LANrev webcam photographs or screenshots for such inappropriate purposes. Please also be reminded that we

continue to cooperate and provide transparency to the United States Attorney’s office in its investigation of the matter.     To the extent there is any evidence of inappropriate conduct, it will be disclosed in the findings of the current investigations.

We are committed to disclosing fully what happened, correcting our mistakes, and making sure that they do not happen again.

Thank you for your continued patience during this process.

Sincerely,

David Ebby,  President,   LMSD Board of Directors

________________________________________

________________________________________  End of CYA Statements from Lower Merion School District

The above is not snark.  

Nether is this.

For a no bid contract, you too can have your school district, without your knowledge, remotely install tracking software on your kid’s school laptop that, at the whim of the school’s tech crew, turns on the webcam, takes photos and screenshots anywhere, sends them to the school’s server, and then erases the files. School board approved.  Go Bulldogs!

For a photo of a high school kid sleeping in his own bed that the LANrev remote surveillance software installed by the school district took, click here.  The parents, Holly and Michael Robbins, have filed a lawsuit.


In the filing, the Penn Valley family claims the district’s records show that the controversial tracking system captured more than 400 photos and screen images from 15 year old Blake Robbins’ school issued laptop during two weeks last fall, and that “thousands of webcam pictures and screen shots have been taken of numerous other students in their homes.

It was like a window into a “little LMSD soap opera” a staffer is quoted as saying in an email to Carol Cafiero, the administrator running the program.

“I know, I love it,” she is quoted as having replied.”

Three district employees have given sworn depositions in the suit. A fourth, Cafiero, declined to answer Haltzman’s questions, asserting her Fifth Amendment right against self incrimination.

That’s one student. There’s lots more photos of students out there.  Not hundreds. Thousands. Some include family members of all ages.  Somewhere.  The school district dumped a lot of the files last year.

Can you say potential “kiddie porn?”

_____

pdf of the Plaintiff’s Motion for sanctions, 12 pages   Case 2:10- cv – 00665 – JD  Doc 44

http://media.philly.com/docume…

The motion wants Carol Cafiero, the school’s information systems coordinator, to turn over her home computers to check if they have had data downloaded onto them.  It claims that there were numerous webcam pictures of Blake Robbins AND his family, including pictures of Blake partially undressed, and Blake sleeping, and that there were additional pictures and screen shots that have not been recovered because evidence was purged by the school district’s IT department.  The computer used by Blake was not reported stolen nor missing.  Discovery shows thousands of OTHER PICTURES and screen shots have been taken of numerous other students (and their families)  in their homes, many of which never reported their laptops missing or stolen.  

A March 21 2010 story from the Philadelphia Inquirer http://www.philly.com/philly/n…   “How a Lawsuit Over School Laptops Evolved,”

shows that the local police department was also involved in the secret webcam snooping.


Instead, as the district tried to keep track of 2,300 expensive Apple computers in the hands of teenagers, the use of the powerful surveillance capabilities seemed to fade into the background, just another part of the school routine.

When Lower Merion police hunted down schools’ stolen computers, they sometimes used the Web cam pictures to help build a case.

That’s what happened in the fall of 2008 when six laptops were stolen from the Harriton locker room during a gym class.

Lower Merion police, with an assist from the regional FBI computer lab in Radnor, tracked down five of the computers and arrested the culprit – another student, sources said.  The sixth was tracked to Pakistan.   As time went on, the schools reported thefts to the police nearly two dozen times, three times, juveniles were charged, the sources said. In an additional half dozen cases, laptops reported stolen turned out to be merely misplaced, the sources said.  Pictures were routinely turned over to police, along with the computer’s internet address.

Michael Perbix, a school network technician, and Carol Cafiero, the two employees with the power to turn the snoopware on the student’s laptops, are on leave from the school during the district’s investigation. The former police superintendent Daly claims he did not know that the student pictures were from laptops (“God, no, I don’t remember that, that’s illegal as hell”)  and the current police superintendent of Lower Marion since 2009 refuses to comment.

The school’s extraordinary snoopercamming might have continued longer, unnoticed by the victims, except for the an assistant school principal calling student Blake Robbins into the office and showing him an image taken, allegedly with his holding pills.  His attorney, Mark Haltzman, and his parents claim they were pieces of candy.  Irregardless of what they were, it is curious how a school official can snag a secret picture off a webcam and be able to identify the legal status of anything.  What if they had been aspirins or chewable Flintstones multivitamins ?

Superintendent says little about webcam controversy

2/23/2010             http://www.philly.com/philly/n…

Parent’s reactions to the allegations varied.


Susan Flaschen, the mother of two district graduates, said: “My concern is the violation of privacy of students and families and anyone who might have had their pictures taken. . . . Not all questions have been answered, but it seems that there have been serious mistakes by the administration.”

John McGinty, the father of two elementary school students, said that if it turns out that the district activated its webcam theft detection system only to locate missing or stolen laptops, not to spy on students, “I don’t have a problem with that.”

Robyn Needelman, the mother of an elementary school student, said that “I’m sure that they had a good reason to do what they did,” and worried that the litigation would “take money away from our kids’ education.”

And Mike Salmonson, the father of an elementary school student, said that the activation of the laptops is “part of what I would call institutional arrogance – a lack of full disclosure and honesty” on the part of district administrators.

It is a measure of how far we have been conditioned by the excuses of the War on Terror, making expectations of privacy obsolete, that some parents are not only not upset with this, with the eyes of school employees and the local police watching their children get undressed in their own bedrooms,  but are more worried that possible lawsuits might “take away from our kid’s education.”

Some parents are banding against the lawsuit.

http://www.philly.com/philly/e…


“We’re the ones that are going to have to pay the freight at the end of the day,” said Michael Boni, a parent who helped organize last night’s meeting through the Web site lmsdparents.org. “We are also unhappy that this is a distraction for the students. The fact that it’s garnered as much local, regional and national press as it has is nothing that the parents want.”

Parents last night discussed possible ways to block the Robbins case from reaching class-action status. One woman privately grumbled that she’d like the family to move to another school district. Larry Silver, a parent and lawyer, told the audience that it’s a “rob Peter to pay Peter” scenario.

 

______

During President Bill Clinton’s impeachment battle, we used to refer to independent prosecutor Ken Starr as the nation’s pornographer for his “Starr Report’s” attention to TMI detail.   Just under a dozen years later, we can nominate the Lower Merion School District Administration and Lower Merion Police Dept, in Montgomery County, PA for the honor, and some of the parents okay with passing around the snoopcam portraits are in contention for serious runner- ups.   At least the Bill and Monica were consenting adults.

Thursday, I wrote a long and little noticed piece on the House race in PA – 06’s district, which includes Lower Merion Township, as a prelude to this piece.

https://www.docudharma.com/user… “Fool me once,…”  If you click on that, and are dismayed by the length, please go to the end part about the end of the Watergate era, Vietnam, Nixon, Ford, and the House’s Pike commission, which tried to do a report on the CIA, which was suppressed.  

Glen Greenwald has done several stories this week about Constitutional Bill of Rights, domestic spying by the government on its own civilians, and civil liberties issues, from the potential appointment of a Supreme Court nominee with unknown views on this theory of “it’s okay if the President does it,”  to the Obama administration’s demanding Yahoo give up emails without warrants, to his opinion on what the Obama Dept. of Justice does when it prosecutes government whistleblowers and not the lawbreakers they are trying to protect the people from.  When we live in a “Surveillance State,” if we do not have watchdogs, the risk to any sort of civilization is enormous.   Any activity can be willfully intrepreted as a threat to any authority without oversight.      

The Case Against Elena Kagan   http://www.salon.com/news/opin…

The Obama DOJ’s warrantless demands for emails  http://www.salon.com/news/opin…

What the whistleblower prosecution says about the Obama DOJ   http://www.salon.com/news/opin…

I find it highly ironic that the most right wing congresspeople speak a great deal about “freedom” and “liberty” and the founding fathers, and can quote them at length, but they confuse the concept of freedom with just getting another tax cut.  They started the War on Terror and the Homeland Security Perpetual Threat Levels and convinced us we’d die without spying on each other.  They sanctioned a cultural war, abused detainees and mocked the Constitution as just a piece of paper.  But I am also having trouble wrapping my brain around the thought that a new Obama administration, once seen as the antidote to everything that was wrong with the Bush/Cheney one, is now finding itself wanting to pad Congress and the Court with more of the same.   The demographic of Lower Merion Township School district is the wealthiest in the state of PA, and one of the richest in the nation.  Is this why they are but faintly embarrassed to be caught having their school issuing secret, snooping spyware cameras on their very own children ?

___________________

Worse Than They Were Letting On-  Updated Monday April 19 2010, 8:25 pm – 56,000 PICTURES !  h/t to ek, Atrios, and the Philadelphia Inquirer

http://www.philly.com/philly/n…

The laptops were turned on at least 80 times in the past two years, taking almost 56,000 pictures of students, students in their own homes, and screenshots of what they were running on the computers, per the story in the Inquirer.   This contradicts previous statements by the Lower Merion School District and their lawyers.


About 38,500 images – or almost two-thirds of the total number retrieved so far – came from six laptops that were reported missing from the Harriton High School gymnasium in September 2008. The tracking system continued to store images from those computers for nearly six months, until police recovered them and charged a suspect with theft in March 2009.



The next biggest chunk of images stem from the five or so laptops where employees failed or forgot to turn off the tracking software even after the student recovered the computer.

And in about 15 activations, investigators have been unable to identify exactly why a student’s laptop was being monitored.  

So that’s about 20 laptops and 17500 images, or around an average of  875 images per student that they can’t explain yet.  

10 comments

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  1. The Blue Screen of Death

    Intel rejecting Vista as an operating system

    And or the computing enviornment of today which demands an internet connection to “update” everyday, “register” or “validate” your applications, processor serial number, MAC address, password everyday then scan for trojans,worms, viruses, malware/spyware and corrupted registy entries.

    Enter your password.

    Not Strong enough-Please refer to the 96 page manual of secure password protocols.

    If Obama can’t have a regular Blackberry due to it’s insecurity then the one you do your banking on is what.

  2. …..  welcome to the War on the Right to Privacy.

    The local police department using your kid’s school computer to surveille your inner home life has to be a new low in accepted behaviors.  

  3. …. I do eventually get to the point.

    These well to do parents in this school district who aren’t having qualms about this….  the school, cooperating with the police watching the inside of the homes of the parents considered “less” socially or politically desirable, or troublesome–  notice how the lawyers’ kid’s pictures haven’t shown up yet –  should be worrying anybody.  When I first heard about this story, I really thought it was an Onion spoof that would turn up on Snopes, debunked.

    There are at least 6 law firms involved so far,  so this has been quite the profitable turn of events for them.

  4. 56,000 Pictures

    h/t Atrios

    • Edger on April 20, 2010 at 5:25 am

    take a look at this. 😉

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