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Monday, May 27, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

School Webcam Took Nude Pics, Teen Says

PHILADELPHIA (CN) - The ritzy Lower Merion School District in suburban Philadelphia was hit Wednesday with yet another lawsuit over secret webcam surveillance of students and their families through school-issued laptops.

Deposition in another case revealed that the district has photos of the latest plaintiff, Paige Robbins, "in the bathroom, or in the nude, or partially dressed or sleeping or in her bedroom or in a compromised state," according to the complaint.

District spokesman Doug Young told Courthouse News that the claim is "bizarre," the "epitome of an attempted money-grab and a complete waste of tax dollars."

Robbins is the sister of the original Webcamgate plaintiff, bringing the total of Webcamgate lawsuits to at least five.

The school district, among the nation's wealthiest, settled with minor Blake Robbins for $175,000 six months after he filed a February 2010 class action that accused school officials of spying on students by remotely activating the webcams on their school-issued laptops.

Officials reportedly activated the cameras as a way to combat computer theft or other malfeasance.

Paige Robbins now claims that the "indiscriminant remote [webcam] activation" while she was a minor-student at Harriton High School in Rosemont, Pa., caused her to be captured "in compromising or embarrassing positions, including, but not limited to, in various stages of dress or undress."

But the district says that the FBI and other law-enforcement agencies found no such photos after poring over "terabytes and terabytes of data" in an "exhaustive" probe.

Robbins says she first learned that she ended up on webcam candid camera as lawyers deposed a vice principal while litigating her brother Blake's case in April 2010.

The district disputes Robbins' characterization of the deposition, saying the excerpts "have been edited to omit key words."

"A thorough, exhaustive investigation - under supervision of the United States District Judge Jan DuBois, the FBI, and the United States Attorney - determined that no one ever saw a compromising image of Ms. Robbins or anyone else," Young said in a statement, referring to the judge who presided over Blake Robbins' case. "Indeed, the investigation did not recover any images of Ms. Robbins."

"That was one of the reasons they dropped the criminal investigation," Young told Courthouse News in an interview.

"It should also be noted that this complaint comes nearly two years after the original case was filed," according to Young's statement. "It appears Ms. Robbins simply waited to turn 18 so she could attempt to obtain a payout of her own from LMSD [Lower Merion School District] taxpayers. The district will vigorously defend its position and the taxpayers of this community."

As of late August, the district had spent more than $1.6 million litigating the scandal, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported.

Paige Robbins sued the Lower Merion School District, its board of directors and Superintendent Christopher McGinley, alleging invasion of privacy and violations of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, the Stored Communications Act, federal civil rights law and Pennsylvania wiretapping law.

She is represented by Mary Bogan in Philadelphia. Bogan was not available for immediate comment on the lawsuit.

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