PHILADELPHIA - The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania and cooperating counsel from the law firm of Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis LLP filed a motion today asking the judge presiding over the "webcam case" filed against Lower Merion School District to prevent anyone other than the students whose privacy was invaded from viewing any photographs or other materials gathered through the school district's practice of remotely accessing students' laptop computers.
The motion, filed on behalf of Harriton High School senior Evan Neill and his parents, Richard Neill and Elaine Reed, also asks that the Neill family be permitted to intervene in the lawsuit as additional plaintiffs, so that they can protect their privacy interests. The Neill family does not seek any monetary damages, but asks that Lower Merion School District be permanently barred from remotely accessing students' school-issued laptops without putting in place proper safeguards.
"By all accounts, it appears that the school district remotely accessed laptops while they were located in student's homes, thereby violating the constitutionally protected privacy rights of its students and their families," explained Stephen Shapiro, the Neill family's lawyer. "In recent court filings, the parties have indicated that they are collecting and intend to disclose the images and other data collected by the school district's tracking software. Permitting anyone other than those whose privacy was violated to view those images would compound the privacy violations. The Neill family wants to make sure that, as this case progresses, those whose privacy already was violated are not re-victimized."
Evan Neill regularly used one of the school-issued laptops in his home over the past two school years. He generally left the laptop open, running and connected to the Internet through his family's wireless network. Evan primarily used the laptop in his personal bedroom, but occasionally moved the laptop into other rooms in the house that he shared with the rest of his family.
The Lower Merion School District has admitted publicly that it activated the tracking system in student laptops at least 42 times during the 2009-2010 school year alone, each time capturing dozens or hundreds of photographs of the laptops' surroundings, as well as collecting the information on the computer screen. According to press reports, the School District contacted one family because of its concern about something it had read in a student's email.
Evan Neill and his family are represented by Mary Catherine Roper and Witold Walczak of the ACLU-PA and Stephen Shapiro, Theresa Loscalzo, and Justin Park of Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis LLP.
A copy of the today's motion and the ACLU's earlier amicus brief in the case can be found at: /our-work/legal/legaldocket/robbinsvlowermerionschoold/