You know it's bad when it gets the suffix "gate." In a case against the Lower Merion School District in Pennsylvania, which some are already referring to as Webcamgate, a federal judge Wednesday made a very clear statement.
According to Fox 29 Philadelphia, the judge told the school district not to activate Webcams remotely under any circumstances.
In case this unquestionably soon-to-be-produced episode of "Law and Order" had slipped by you, a student's family is accusing Harriton High School of spying on their son in their home by remotely activating the Webcam on his school-issued Apple laptop.
Even though the district last week said it had already ceased the practice, the family of Blake Robbins, the 15-year-old allegedly accused of drug use in his home by a school administrator, sought an emergency temporary restraining order from the court.
They essentially got it. The judge ordered on Monday that the school's "employees or agents are prohibited from remotely activating any and all Webcams embedded in laptop computers." The district consented, saying it had already discontinued the use of its remote-activation software.
In a nod to our cloudy electronic present, the judge also ordered the school to preserve "all electronic data, files, and storage media that pertain to the plaintiffs' claims." The school district also agreed that it wouldn't make any contact with anyone who might be a party to a class action that might arise from the Robbins' lawsuit. (Separately, the Harriton assistant principal accused in the suit of approaching Robbins with a Webcam picture the school remotely took of him at home, Lindy Matsko, vehemently denied in a public statement Wednesday morning using the remote-activation software or authorizing its use.)
The school district has already admitted, through its spokesman, Doug Young, that neither parents nor students knew that remote activation of the Webcams was in its power.
"It's clear [that] what was in place was insufficient, and that's unacceptable," he told The Washington Post.
It will be interesting to see how the judge's decision might affect other school districts. From e-mails I have received since the word Webcam received its "gate," there are other school districts that use remote Webcam activation for what they term security purposes. Will these schools feel that they, too, should shut down this practice?