Six Lines

Lower Merion Webcam Privacy Case Resolved

Posted by Aaron Massey on 18 Oct 2010.

Last February, a the Lower Merion school district in Pennsylvania became embroiled in an almost unbelievable privacy debacle. Basically, the district gave laptops to students, required the students to use them for school work, and then activated the webcams on the laptops surreptitiously to spy on the students. As you might imagine, this did not go over well when the parents found out about it.

This case has recently been settled, and the Guardian has the best article on the outcome:

So what happened to the school administrators, to McGinley, Matsko and the others who spied on teens at home, then lied about the extent of it?
Nothing. No jobs lost and no financial consequences, either – they’re not responsible for the $610,000 payout. The municipal insurer will cover it, then charge higher premiums to Lower Merion taxpayers. The same people whose rights were violated will foot the bill for those very violations.


I know it’s tough to find a way to compensate people for privacy violations. There’s often simply no way to put that toothpaste back in the tube, so to speak. However, this does happen in other legal matters, and the punishments for those crimes are meant to deter future crimes of this nature. What exactly does fining the school $610,000 deter? The best I can figure is that it deters parents from bringing the case in the first place. There should have been some professional discipline for all the teachers and administrators who cooked up this plan and executed it.

LMSD is a public school district. Their teachers and administrators are government employees. Students in that county are required to attend school by law. The vast majority of these students don’t have a realistic choice in what school they want to attend. And now they are stuck attending a school where the administrators feel it’s perfectly acceptable behavior to spy on them surreptitiously at home? The Guardian article concludes on the right note:

Is anyone reading this a student in Lower Merion? If so, remember: you are still obligated to show respectful deference to Principal Matsko, Superintendent McGinley and all the other grownups at your school – even the ones who got their jollies peeping at you while you slept. You teenagers might be justified in thinking, “I don’t feel safe around middle-aged people who think it’s OK to spy on me and my friends. Why is this allowed?”. But don’t say that where administrators can hear you, or you’ll get detention for defying their authority.