Pa. Schools Webcam Lawsuit Sparks Review of Federal Privacy Laws


U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) plans to propose a law extending federal wiretap privacy protections to images from Web cams. The legislation is being introduced in response to the alleged use of cameras in school-issued laptops for surveillance at Harriton High School.

The Lower Merion School District is facing a lawsuit filed by the parents of Blake Robbins, a student at Harriton High, over the Web cams’ use. The Robbins family maintains that the district did not inform them beforehand that the Web cam could be remotely activated. They also claimed that there was no information on the district’s Web site or any of the documentation they received that mentioned the functionality.

Currently, federal wiretap law restricts how telephone and in-person conversations can be recorded and when a speaker can expect a reasonable amount of privacy, according to However, the laws to do not extend to visual images. Therefore, it is not considered breaking the law if a photo is taken remotely from a school-issued laptop computer if no sound recording was made during the process.

Though it is unclear when the legislation will be introduced, Specter and others at the meeting said the law would take into account legitimate uses of cameras, such as building security and monitoring of public spaces.

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