Federal Prosecutors Won't File Charges In Laptop Spying Case

It's been a few months since we heard much from the Lower Merion school district (LMSD) and the allegations of improper conduct, voyeuristic behavior, and civil rights violations leveled against administration employees and the vice principal of Harriton High School, Lindy Matsko. The case and accompanying federal investigation have been percolating for nigh on a year, but the government has finally reached a decision not to prosecute. According to US Attorney Zane David Memeger, investigators have found no evidence of criminal intent by the district's administration.

""For the government to prosecute a criminal case, it must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the person charged acted with criminal intent," Memeger said in a brief statement released by his office. "We have not found evidence that would establish beyond a reasonable doubt that anyone involved had criminal intent."

The civil suit filed by Blake Robbins and his parents is unaffected by this decision, and there are still a number of unanswered questions regarding how the laptop cameras were used and when they were activated. For those of you who might be tuning in now, Robbins and his family sued the school after VP Lindy Matsko informed Blake that he had been caught on (web)camera engaged in "inappropriate" behavior while in his own home. As it turned out, the LMSD had failed to disclose that the 1800 laptops it distributed at the beginning of last school year were equipped with activity-monitoring software by LANRev. Said software included the ability to activate and remotely capture photos from the laptop's webcam.

Blake Robbins, with father Mickey Rourke, Jocelyn Wildenstein, and Brooke Hogan

The school district maintains that it did nothing wrong, but has since admitted to taking some 56,000 webcam photos of purportedly stolen laptops in an attempt to recover them. Back in April, the district stated it had activated its monitoring software on 42 separate occasions. That works out to some 1,333 photos per event, which seems a bit high. Blake's original filing alleges that his laptop—which was never reported stolen—captured some 400 separate photos of him and his family over a 15-day period. LMSD's own investigation claims that while the laptop cameras were never inappropriately activated, administrators often forgot to turn the tracking system off afterwards.

Inappropriate photos like this. We assume the district's response to this was: "Whoopsie."

The government's announcement is thought to clear the way for the reinstatement of the district's IT administrators, Michael Perbix and Carol Cafiero. Cafiero's woes aren't yet over—the Robbins lawsuit identifies her as a potential voyeur and quotes her describing how she loves the webcams and how they give insight into a "little LMSD soap opera."

Lower Merion has at least learned something from the international attention its laptop policies earned. The district recently released a revised version of its laptop policies and guidelines. Statements include:
The School District will only access a student's computer with the explicit written authority from parents/guardians and students. School personnel will only access a student's laptop remotely to resolve a technical problem only  if the student formally gives the district permission to do so. If the student chooses, he or she can decline the remote access and take the laptop directly to the school's IT center for repair. Theft tracking software will only  be activated if a student and parent/guardian file a police report and provide a signed "remote file access consent" form and a signed incident report to the principal verifying that a laptop has been lost or stolen. Theft tracking software would never have the capability of capturing screen shots, audio, video and on-screen text. (emphasis original)
The new regulations "Strictly prohibit remote monitoring by the District of any kind, including activation of webcams, screen shots, audio, and video," and can be read in full here