Remember Blake J. Robbins? He's the kid who sued the Lower Merion School District in Pennsylvania, asserting that district employees were spying on him and other kids through webcams installed on "free" laptops distributed by the district.
Subsequent developments are making it look worse than originally thought, not better. Via Radley Balko, I see that Robbins' lawyer now claims, based on documents produced in discovery, that the district captured more than 400 pictures from Robbins' laptop and thousands from others. The district's previous justification — that it only used the webcams to track stolen or missing laptops — turns out to be exaggerated. Robbins' own laptop webcam was repeatedly activated because his parents had not paid the $55 insurance fee, and the district repeatedly activated the webcams even when it knew exactly who had the laptops (when, for example, students did not return them in a timely fashion).
I've retrieved the recent motion Robbins filed from PACER and uploaded it here. The motion seeks sanctions against district administrator Carol Cafiero, one of two people who ran the webcam program, for refusing to produce her home computers for examination. The judge previously granted Robbins' motion to compel Cafiero to sit for deposition; in light of the pending federal grand jury investigation of the incident, she prudently took the Fifth. Quoting emails produced in discovery, the motion paints an ugly picture of Cafiero's attitude towards her ability to spy on kids through their webcams. The motion claims that an IT staffer wrote to Cafiero that using the webcams was like a window into "a little LMSD soap opera," and claims that Cafiero responded "I know, I love it."
Robbins' motion goes much further than that. It rather unfairly accuses Cafiero of being a voyeur, which I think is an irresponsible and baseless accusation — at least if "voyeur" is defined as someone who derives sexual pleasure from secretly viewing others. Robbins doesn't cite any evidence that Cafiero used the system for sexual gratification. The quote from her, however, suggests that she used it for bureaucratic gratification — the pleasure that petty officials take in nosing into the private lives of citizens. It may not be sexually perverse, but it is, in fact, sick and despicable. Robbins' motion asserts that the district had no written policy about how the spying function should be used (which, in itself, is astoundingly reckless), and circumstances suggest that the spying was the result of a petty official drunk on her own power and unrestrained by the distaste that decent, normal people would feel about spying on kids.
Patrick points out that the State of Pennsylvania has also recently produced prosecutors who charge sexting teens with child porn distribution and juvenile court judges who sent kids to juvie in exchange for kickbacks. As Patrick suggests, it's beginning to look as if Pennsylvania is to child welfare what England or Canada are to free speech.
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