Will we finally learn the truth about 'Webcamgate'?

Tonight the Lower Merion School District will reveal the results of its internal investigation into how it spied on students via their own laptops. Is this a whitewash in the making?

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The district also says none of those pictures were "salacious or inappropriate," per a report in USA Today, though I suppose that's up for interpretation. Per the Robbins' attorney:

The district photographed Robbins 400 times during a 15-day period last fall, sometimes as he slept in bed or was half-dressed, according to his lawyer, Mark Haltzman. Other times, the district captured screen shots of instant messages or video chats the Harriton High School sophomore had with friends, he said.

Wired has run one photo of 15-year-old Blake Robbins fast asleep in bed, taken by his Webcam and obtained by his lawyers. Can you say "creepy"? I knew that you could.

Earlier this month Robbins' attorney issued some ugly charges [PDF], most of them directed at the IT admin, Carol Cafiero, who until recently had refused to cooperate with the investigation. To wit:

...there are additional webcam pictures and screenshots taken of Blake Robbins which, to date, have not been recovered because the evidence was purged by the IT department...  As to Carol Cafiero, based on the discovery to date...there is reason to believe that evidence may be found on her personal home computer of the downloading of the pictures obtained from the LanRev "peeping tom" technology.

Through her attorney, Cafiero issued a series of carefully worded denials [PDF], including the rather interesting statement that the 15-year-old Robbins had "no reasonable expectation of privacy" in his own home, because his use of the computer was "unauthorized." Apparently, his family hadn't paid the $55 insurance fee required by the school for home loaners.

In other words: If you don't pay your dues, we can watch you while you sleep. Did I say "creepy" already?

She also turned over her home computer to investigators. Cafiero may well be entirely innocent, but it's not looking good for her from where I'm sitting.

Meanwhile, the feds are claiming a district court judge is keeping them from investigating what went really went on, limiting information only to those involved in the Robbins' civil suit.

Is this a whitewash in the making -- or a hanging? Stay tuned for further developments.

Is this a case of good intentions gone stupid, or something creepier? Cast your vote below or email me: cringe@infoworld.com.

This story, "Will we finally learn the truth about 'Webcamgate'?" was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Robert X. Cringely's Notes from the Field blog.


Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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