School that spied with student webcams won't face charges

Posted by Mark Raby

Apparently there is nothing criminal about a school district that takes a whole bunch of pictures of its students in bed.

The school district that remotely activated student laptop webcams, taking thousands of pictures of teenagers at their homes without their knowledge, is going to be left under the category of "just plain stupid" instead of being escalated to anything criminal.

The US Attorney's Office has declined to bring any formal charges against the Lower Merion school district in Pennsylvania because it says it cannot prove that there was any criminal intent.

It all started when 15-year-old Blake Robbins, a student at Lower Merion High School, was told by school officials that they had evidence of him engaging in "inappropriate" conduct at home. That's because the school-issued laptop he had, just like every other student at the high school, was remotely taking pictures of him without his knowledge.

Robbins and his family went to the media, outraged that the school had snapped pictures of him in his home. A global media frenzy ensued, quickly turning up more private photos sent through school servers, including pictures of students in bed.

Aghast at the total invasion of privacy, thousands of readers across the country accused school officials of being perverts and voyeurs, spamming the district's e-mail inboxes with angry letters and even a handful of death threats.

The district refused to say anything about the Robbins incident, leading many to assume that the "inappropriate conduct" caught on camera was something of a sexual nature. It later turned out that Robbins was accused of using drugs, but the student rebutted that the alleged pills captured in the photos were actually just pieces of Mike & Ike candy.

As part of the investigation, it was revealed that thousands upon thousands of pictures were taken through remotely-activated student webcams with no real rhyme or reason. The sweeping vast majority of these pictures showed virtually nothing - blank walls and empty rooms. The story took a turn away from school officials with a voyeuristic penchant to a school that was just incredibly stupid for taking random snapshots without student consent.

And that is where US Attorney Zane David ended up in his assessment. "I have concluded that bringing criminal charges is not warranted in this matter. For the government to prosecute a criminal case, it must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the person charged acted with criminal intent," he said in his statement.

District superindendent Christopher McGinley was relieved at the outcome. "This is all good news for the students and staff of Lower Merion School District as we prepare for the start of a new school year," he said.

Robbins' family still has a civil case pending against the school.