A school in Philadelphia used school-issued laptop webcams to spy on students at home, a family has claimed in court.
Plaintiffs Michael and Holly Robbins allege that school officials were able to activate webcams on the computers without students' knowledge or permission, capturing pupils and family members as they undressed and in other embarrassing situations.
Lower Merion School District officials said the computers "contain a security feature intended to track lost, stolen and missing laptops," that has since been deactivated.
The Robbinses said they learned of the alleged infringement when Lindy Matsko, an assistant high school principal, told their son that school officials thought he had engaged in improper behaviour at home. The behavior was not specified in the suit.
Tom Halpern, a 15-year-old sophomore from Wynnewood, said students were "pretty disgusted" and had started putting masking tape over their computer webcams and microphones.
"This is just bogus," Halpern said. "I just think it's really despicable that they have the ability to just watch me all the time."
The accusations amount to potentially illegal electronic wiretapping, said Witold J. Walczak, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, which is not involved in the case.
"School officials cannot, any more than police, enter into the home either electronically or physically without an invitation or a warrant," Walczak said.
A school district statement said the tracking feature would not be reactivated "without express written notification to all students and families."
It added: "We can categorically state that we are and have always been committed to protecting the privacy of our students."