Federal subpoena issued to school that used webcam to spy

Federal prosecutors are demanding documents from one Pennsylvania school district that allegedly used a remote-controlled laptop camera to spy on a student.

A grand jury issued that subpoena to Lower Merion School District officials on Friday, requiring administrators to explain in detail how that controversial security system works, according to media reports.


Ultimately, the official request arrives in response to last week's news that school officials had recently activated a camera on one of those laptops to snap a photo of an unsuspecting high school student.

The security technology installed in Lower Merion's school-issued computers permits administrators to activate cameras remotely, primarily as a way to ensure the laptops are not stolen.

Technicians said they have activated the technology 42 times this year to take photos of suspects believed to be damaging laptops or otherwise committing wrongdoing, and they did so again last month in the case of a 15-year-old Harriton High School student.

Instead, they captured a photo of the student engaging in "improper activity" -- drug use, administrators believed, though that later turned out not to be the case, the family said.

The student and his parents have since sought redress in federal court, lambasting school officials for never informing them about the security features installed in their own laptops.

So far, district administrators have mostly defended the technology, though they did admit to the Philadelphia Inquirer on Saturday that some change to the policy was necessary.

"There is an essential need to clarify the procedures and specify the process of what should happen," Merion district spokesman Douglas Young told reporters.