Over on Forbes, Kashmir Hill discusses the settlement in the Lower Merion webcam civil suits that have been discussed on this site previously. As reported last night, the two civil suits settled for $610k, with the lawyer getting the bulk of the settlement, presumably to cover all his time in court seeking an injunction, payment for forensics and consultants, etc.
The case has had a number of repercussions. First, it made other schools and parents more aware of the capability of school-issued laptops to surveill students – with or without their knowledge. Second, it served as a useful call-to-arms to protect and preserve student and youth privacy. Whether Blake Robbins, the student at the heart of the civil suit, actually has experienced any lasting psychological injury or harm as a result of his experiences is unknown to me, as people may try to make light of a traumatic experience to help reduce their anxiety. I hope that if he has suffered adverse emotional consequences, he’s able to get help and put some of this behind him. Sadly, once trust is violated, it’s very difficult to rebuild it or ever be so trusting again. Discovering that your school is taking pictures of you while you were in your bedroom would be very disturbing for most of us, I suspect, and might leave us with a sense of unease in dealing with the school.
Hill suggests one take-home message from the case:
A lesson for others from all this: One of the biggest problems for Lower Merion was that school administrators did not disclose from the beginning to students and their parents that the school could remotely activate the laptop cameras and take photos. If they had, they likely would not have gotten into so much legal trouble of the civil variety. (They were fine on the criminal front — prosecutors declined to pursue a case against the district.)
Transparency pays off. Lower Merion’s lack of transparency now means it has to pay off.
While I agree with her completely that transparency would have helped, I don’t think that makes it okay to be taking pictures of students in their home. The school district’s right and need to track possibly stolen equipment can be accomplished in other ways that do not risk invading students’ or families’ privacy in their homes. And maybe the take-home message we want people to get is that students still do have some privacy rights.