US DOJ won't file charges in school webcam spying case

The U.S. Attorney's Office said it couldn't find criminal intent at the Pennsylvania school district

The U.S. Department of Justice won't file criminal charges against a Pennsylvania school district accused of spying on students via webcams in their computers.

After an investigation by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, the local district attorney and local police, the U.S. Attorney's Office said that it did not find criminal intent and would not file criminal charges against the Lower Merion School District.

The school district came under fire earlier this year when a student's family filed a lawsuit charging the district with spying on them. The district had been using software that would remotely capture photographs from webcams on students' computers when the laptops were reported lost or stolen. That software did not enable an administrator to remotely take photographs via the webcam on command, rather it collected images automatically.

Two lawsuits surrounding the incident are ongoing.

On Tuesday, the school district also issued a new laptop policy aimed at protecting student privacy.

As part of the new policy, the district said it will only access a student's computer with the explicit written authority of parents and students. Personnel will access a student's laptop remotely to resolve a technical problem only if the student formally gives the district permission. A student can decline remote access and bring the laptop to the school's IT center instead.

Theft tracking software will only be activated if a student and parent file a police report and sign a remote-file-access consent form. In addition, such theft tracking software won't have the capability of capturing screen shots, audio, video or on-screen text.

An independent investigation into the matter earlier this year found no evidence that the district was spying on students, but it recommended that the district create an official policy that prohibits the remote activation of webcams on computers and spells out policies around student privacy regarding computers.

In a statement about the new policy, the district's superintendent said he hoped that the policy would restore the community's trust.

Nancy Gohring covers mobile phones and cloud computing for The IDG News Service. Follow Nancy on Twitter at @idgnancy. Nancy's e-mail address is Nancy_Gohring@idg.com

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