back to article PA school district avoids charges over webcam spy scandal

Philadelphia school administrators involved in a webcam spying episode will escape criminal prosecution, federal authorities have decided. A high school in the Lower Merion School District of suburban Philadelphia used laptop cameras outfitted with LanRev theft tracking software to monitor students. The unorthodox use of the …


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  1. irish donkey

    Great result

    Sorry your Honour

    I know I was peeping in that girls window but I just wanted to check she was wearing the correct underwear.

    The was no criminal intent

  2. Eponymous Cowherd
    Thumb Up

    Criminal Intent ?!?

    ***"For the government to prosecute a criminal case, it must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the person charged acted with criminal intent. We have not found evidence that would establish beyond a reasonable doubt that anyone involved had criminal intent."***

    That'll be Gary McKinnon off the hook, then....

    1. Sam Liddicott


      Gary had to find his way around systems designed to exclude un-authorized users; he must have recognized that he was not an authorized user; whatever his ultimate intent he should have known that he was doing something he should not have been doing.

      The school administrators will have had no such obvious barrier to pass.

      The cases are not directly comparable.

      Thankfully the civil case against the school is still up, because it was still wrong.


      1. Anonymous Coward

        NBot sure about your argument there

        The users of the laptop snap software must have known that they were taking pictures on laptops that were not stolen, having taken 58,000 of them and actually having looked and acted on them.

        The key here is intent not password access.

        McKinnon accessed the systems that he did knowing that he shouldn't.

        The users of this system, whilst not having access barred to them, used the systems in a way which was prohibited.

        The situations are not that different actually.

        1. Hud Dunlap
          Big Brother

          Let's look at this sentence again.

          "Federal prosecutors this week decided not to persue criminal charges in the case after concluding there was no criminal intent in the alleged surveillance."

          So did McKinnon have criminal intent? Knowing that he shouldn't is not the same thing as criminal intent.

          Really officer I didn't have criminal intent when I bought this fifty pound bag of Marijuana, I thought buying for personal use was legal.

          No wonder the kids don't have any respect for the law. The bad part is if the parents win a big settlement, every one in the community will have to pay higher taxes to cover it, and these idiots will still have a job.

          BB for obvious reasons.

      2. Matthew Anderson

        Wrong indeed

        If the students has not given permission then surely installing spyware on the computers they are using (assuming they did not have to agree to small print T&C before using them) counts as unauthorised access. It could also be argued that their privacy was compromised and that the computers had been impaired by the installation of software unknown to the recipient. As well as the security of the computers being impaired due to th software which was installed on them being remotely accessed.

        Dono what the data protection laws are like there but here I would suggest that this contravenes them also as private data is being taken from a computer without the computer owners knowledge.

        The transfers of these files will have used up bandwidth, there is impairment for you. Modifications to cpu load and ram will have occurred, again impairment.

        It's pretty stinky this and even stinkier that nothing was done about it after the event. As usual, 1 rule for the establishment and another for the rest of us. Hope the civil suit goes a little better.

        1. Phil 54

          yes but

          the owner of the computer is the school board, not the student.

      3. Maty

        Sorry, I'm still not getting it

        Mackinnon 'should have known that he was doing something he should not have been doing.

        The school administrators will have had no such obvious barrier to pass.'

        Seriously? In this day and age there exist people who think that spying on other people's kids in their bedrooms is something they *should* be doing? I'd say that was a pretty obvious barrier to pass.

        And yes, bedrooms do have systems designed to exclude unauthorized access - they are simple bits of hardware called 'locks' and 'curtains'.

  3. CADmonkey

    Insulating tape and Apple products

    is there no end to their usefulness?

  4. Henry Wertz 1 Gold badge

    Irish Donkey beat me to it

    Basically, I've heard it said again and again "ignorance of the law is no excuse". So I don't see why in this case, suddenly it is. And secondly, I think teachers of all people would have some inkling that it's possibly unlawful to take photos of students in their bedrooms and on other private property (without their knowledge) -- 58,000 times.

    Well, that's why we're so lawsuit happy in the US! If the legal system lets you down, just sue sue sue.

  5. smudge

    no proof of a deliberate campaign to spy

    That'll be 58,000 accidental pictures, then. Major accident!

  6. Steve 13

    They prosecute sexting teens, but not peeping admins

    How do they justify criminalising and prosecuting a number of teens for 'sexting', but not prosecuting adults remotely spying on minors... Bizarre.

    1. Anonymous Coward


      That's how the US school system works: as long as you claim you're not a perv, you're allowed to do anything you want. It is only if you admit that you like looking at pictures of teens in various states of undress that you get into trouble. No, really, in any case of an accusation of inappropriate conduct by a school employee they simply take the employee's word for it that they did nothing wrong.

  7. Jacqui


    Like the saudi's (and many other third world countries) the USA believes that furriners are automatically guilty.

    1. Eddy Ito

      Much better

      "Like the Brit's (and most all other countries), the USA believes that the public at large is automatically guilty."

      Now it's more accurate if not exact.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    They should stick this on the lap tops that are being handed out here by UK Government, let's just see if they get used for something useful?

  9. Cameron Colley

    "No criminal intent?"

    So it's no longer criminal to spy on teenagers in their bedrooms in the US?

  10. Fred 4

    complete buggery!

    if this had been done by an individual they would be getting years to life.

    58,000 child images, from web cameras in laptops - this were most likely in the users bedroom.

    There is surely at least 1 (if not many more) "inappropriate" images.

    As the trouser snakes that perpetrate idiot rules and regs say : "... think of the children..."

    prosecute them ALL -

    Minimally fire them ALL

  11. Anonymous Coward



    Really? Really for real!???Really!

    I think my reaction was similar when I first heard about this story.

    America Justice Fail.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    As it turns out, being criminally clueless and knowingly lying about it is a defence for these people. Given the narrowly averted and like as not lasting harm that would've come to the kid, it wasn't criminal? Just because it's the school district? Compared to arresting a 12 y/o girl for doodling on her desk, it's all too clear that if you hold any position of bureaucratic power at all, you're home free. Disclaimer: Doesn't go for IT admins. Given what schools and other bureaucratic things get up to, if that was my kid, I'd want to hang them high. Pour encourager les autres.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    Nail 'em up I say, nail some sense into 'em

    It's the only way to be sure.

  14. henrydddd


    I wonder how the parents or students in that school district can ever trust the school administrators again?

    1. Anonymous Coward

      They can't

      What makes you think they trusted them before? What alternative do they have? Homeschooling is only an option if one or more parents don't work for a living, and private schools cost a minimum of $10,000 per year in the states. If you don't send your kid to school, you go to jail. We never trusted them to begin with, but we simply have no choice but to continue to allow them to mistreat our children.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Big Brother

    Think about it

    This was a decision by federal authorities.

    The LAST thing government wants to do is set any sort of legal precedent which could be used against the spying it does on its citizens.

    1. Falanx
      Big Brother

      Criminals failing to prosecute criminals. Whodathunkit?


      The Feds won't touch this with a ten-foot pole because it would otherwise take away a rung of their own already precariously-balanced-legality information gathering systems.

  16. Ed Vim


    ...that maybe some legal action on the State or local level might turn out to be more effective. I believe that there is still a lawsuit brought up by one or more of the families involved. But it's still so very disappointing the Federal courts didn't care to follow up on this matter. This sets a very bad precedent for other school districts/systems -- the Lower Merion school officials lied about the facts in a Federal investigation and the conclusion is there was no criminal intent? It's mind-boggling that Federal prosecutors think it's OK to spy on students even when they are not on school grounds and that photographic monitoring of families in their own homes is acceptable. I wonder how long it will be before every baby born in a hospital will be, by law, required to have an I.D. chip implant (that also includes GPS)?

    1. Hud Dunlap

      But what about Blago

      The only thing he was convicted on was lying to the prosecutors.

      I need one of those 100 proof beers.

  17. Anonymous Coward

    Rip Torn?

    So I presume that since there was no criminal intent when he broke into the bank with a shotgun, mashed out of his head, he'll be getting let off.... Nope... didn't think so.

    Double standards, which unfortunately considering the Ian Tomlinson coverup, happens everywhere.

  18. Ian Michael Gumby


    The Prosecutor decided that it would be a difficult case to prove guilt because the burden of proving mens rea.

    IMHO that's a cop out.

  19. This post has been deleted by its author

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      But the braying mob wants blood. ....................

      They are here pitch folks at the ready just waiting for somebody to shout......................................'Won't somebody think of the children'

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Thumb Down

      That's the problem

      It's not the civil (a.k.a. monetary damages) lawsuit that was dismissed here - it's the criminal one!

      This means that no-one responsible for this will go to jail or even loose their job for this, but that they are still likely to have to pay up.

      And that's the problem - they are likely to loose the civil lawsuit which is unaffected by this, and will just pay with public money, which as you say they have plenty.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Lower Merion Webcam Crime Coverup

      We <a href="">knew the answer a year ago</a>. What's the problem now, short memory?

      The fascism, snooping, sovereignty over-rides have to be fought at every level now!

      Turning the lights out logically, strategically, and as scheduled.

    4. Anonymous Coward


      "although unconstitutional, the ruling was probably in everyone's best interest"

      Seriously? It's no wonder the country is in a mess with moronic thinking like this.

    5. Steve 13


      This was the federal government deciding not to pursue a criminal investigation, it's got very little to do with compensation.

      The civil suit will still be going ahead and I can't see how the school could possibly win.

      What the decision here means though is that no one is going to jail for spying on minors in their bedrooms.

    6. Sir Runcible Spoon


      If they have turned it off and since the case has been so widely publicised, does this mean if someone gets caught doing it in future it *will* be illegal?

      I know the law is an ass*, but this seems a little like cherry picking.

      "Oh, I suppose I'll let you off, as I found no evidence of you jerking off to these pictures - but WOE BETIDE anyone doing this in the future - for I will KNOW you are being naughty!"

      Yep, the law is an ass* :)

      *Translated to 'merican as it is obviously a 'merican posting - it should of course, be ARSE. :)

    7. Cameron Colley

      I think you missed the point.

      If I were to install a program to spy on a teenager using their webcam -- and take pictures of them in their bedroom (fully clothed or not) then, if found out, I would likely spend at least 5 years married to the guy with the most cigarettes and never get a decent job again.

      These people did so and, yet, not only are they not being jailed -- they are still allowed to work with children.

      Perhaps you'd like to set up a live webcam in one of your kids' rooms, or your own, to raise more money for the school district?

    8. Mostor Astrakan

      I disagree.

      Someone needs to lose their job over this.

      Spying on underage kids in their bedrooms is something that's Just Not Done. If It were my child in the same situation, then I would not be interested in money. I'd want to make sure that nobody in that school would ever want to fit a webcam on a laptop again, and that the word "webcam", mentioned by newbie teachers in the teacher's lunchroom would result in a sudden hush, and stares.

      My dad was once a swimming trainer to kids in the age range of, oh, 12 to 16. He once told me that he would not go into the girls' changing room for any reason, up to and including one of the girls bleeding to death in the shower (which might have been a slight exaggeration, but not much). If you have any kind of authority over other people's children, you simply do not put yourself in a situation where you might have even the slightest chance of seeing them naked.

      In this light, having laptops take random snaps when you know full well that they are likely to be in childrens' bedroom is such a monumentally stupid idea that it should have been killed with fire as soon as it was tabled.

      Trained teachers should know better.

    9. AndyS

      The title is required, and must contain letters and/or digits.

      I think you're missing the point. A criminal suit could have led to sackings and criminal records, costing the school nothing but a recruitment campaign.

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Big Brother

    Ass covering

    Actually, here is a much more likely picture of how this decision was taken. The DA spoke with the director of the establishment and they decided it was for the good of the gouv to cover his ass. Don't want a public body to be found to be criminals. It might set a dangerous precedent. Gouv accountable for it's action ... unthinkable.

  21. John Tserkezis

    As a general rule,

    I rebuild computers/laptops etc as I get them. Format the bitch and start again from scratch.

    I don't trust normal vendors, what makes you thing I'm going to trust the board of education?

  22. kain preacher

    the Feds

    They still have to worry about the feds .

  23. John Savard


    In so many cases, the courts are the ones to decide if there is criminal intent, and usually the standard would be whether there was intent to take the images, not intent to make use of them in the specific way the statutes were primarily intended to cover.

    It might not be useful to prosecute for reasons of public policy, or because those suspected can be seen not to be menaces to society, but mens rea is not a valid excuse.

  24. Philip Sagstetter
    Thumb Down

    Administrator Zero Tolerance

    School administrators have a famous Zero-Tolerance policy regarding criminal behavior by school children, even young children who carry a "weapon" like a nail-clipper.

    It looks like the administrators get judged by a different Zero.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Unequal justice

      My daughter got her pencil confiscated from her by her school bus driver when she was trying to do homework on the bus because "she might hurt someone with it". Later, the boy she was forced to sit next to was threatening to stab her with a nail-clipper, and the bus driver didn't care. Of course, the boys who were threatening her were white and she is black, but that doesn't mean there were any different standards of conduct depending on race...

  25. Eddy Ito


    Some really are more equal than others.

  26. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

    @Lower Merion Webcam Scandal

    >the real issue is that

    The real issue is that the parents and kids can't trust the school district anymore.

    Kids bring home laptop - you don't allow them to use it, the next 'administrative tool' might be checking your other home computers for illegal files?

    School wants to give your daughter german measles vaccinations - do you trust them?

    Do you need your kids to check for cameras in the locker room?

    1. Lionel Baden

      Do you need your kids to check for cameras in the locker room?

      Unfortunatley the answer is yes ...

      There are also stories here of cameras in bathrooms

  27. heyrick Silver badge


    At one end of the country, you can't speak in a shopping mall without paperwork saying that you may, while at the other end it's okay to spy on kids, record such images, and generally behave in a disturbingly paedo manner. Icon says it all.

  28. Anonymous Coward

    Pitifully wailing "I didn't meeeeeean to" is not a defence.

    Lack of criminal intent does NOT mean that no offence has been committed.

  29. Hieronymus Coward

    Terry Childs?

    I don't recall any criminal intent in the Terry Childs case... he might have been being an arse, but he got 4 years for his trouble and for not actually causing any real damage or disruption to the network he worked on.

    I would think this case of spying (intentional or otherwise) on teens in their own home by their school is way more serious. I guess the decision came from on high, hence the get out of jail free card...

  30. Scott 19

    Could be handy

    For our American friends, as long as you don't do it for illegal reasons go right ahead and spy on all the high school kids you want.

    I wonder if the same response would of been given if these kids had been 8-10 years old?

    As someone commented above i surpose the US goverment doesn't want to open up the spying on its citizen's can of worms.

    Although 58,000 piecies of evidence seem to me to be a big red flag.

  31. The Indomitable Gall

    Criminal stupidity.

    If they're not guilty of criminal intent, they're guilty of criminal stupidity. Presumably this "pill popping" involved multiple "pops". If they were anything other than sweets, he'd be in a post-overdose coma by now.


  32. MinionZero
    Big Brother

    WTF kind of justice system do they have?!

    So much for Human Rights Act, "guarantees the right to a private and family life"!!!

    "58,000 pictures of students" ... yet ... "no proof of a deliberate campaign to spy on students"

    I mean, WTF! ... How many pictures then, does it take to be a "deliberate campaign to spy on students".

    Its beyond belief they could get off for this. Does the state actually then want to allow state spying ... oh yes, so that's basically what this judgement is saying. Its ok for state employed officials to spy, but if caught, just say its not a campaign to spy.

    WTF does it take to get a procecution!! ... if any non-state employee had done this, they would have thrown them in jail.

    Does us Proles (as Orwell called us) deserve no privacy from spying! ... So much for Human Rights.

    Its beyond belief!!!

  33. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    No, for the government to decide to prosecute, it has to forsee a 'realistic prospect' of conviction. The jury applies the 'beyond reasonable doubt' standard in deciding guilt and convicting. The two standards are totally separate things (with 'on the balance of probabilities' somewhere in the middle). Was he misquoted, or is he entirely misguided?

  34. Magnus_Pym

    Won't somebody please think of the adults

    If I borrowed a laptop for an adult education course and found that the admins of the course took web cam pictures of my sweaty, bloated and saggy self using said laptop in my own home I think I would be a trifle annoyed.

    Sod the kids. They shouldn't do this to anyone without express permission. Can't see that any law would have been broken though. However for the school admins (surely a responsible position) to not be aware that young people might choose to do their homework with their vestments askew and that if this where to happen they would definitely be breaking the law and risking moral outrage is criminal stupid. How did they get the job in the first place.

  35. DrunkenMessiah

    Since when...

    ...was ignorance of the law deemed a viable defence?

  36. Anonymous Coward

    It's funny

    In America you can be successfully sued for serving someone hot coffee, but take tens of thousands of pictures of children in their bedrooms on spy cameras you hid in gifts to them and your chances of being punished in any real sense of the word are slim to nothing, providing you work for Uncle Sam, presumably the same uncle who touches your special area.

    Whatever they get fined will be paid by their victims, the tax payers, anyway so what have they got to lose? Nothing. And there's "no criminal intent" so they can carry on like nothing happened. What are the parents going to do about it? Take their kids out of school? And have them taken by CPS? Not likely.

  37. mulder
    Black Helicopters

    they do not want to condemk the actions of there own governmetn

    what thise guys did is no diferent of the "normal" actions of the usa regime so setting a president that it is iligal would complicate there own spying on people.

  38. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    If that was one of my children, I'd hire a private investigator to follow those involved till they found dirt on them and make it public.

    Use thier own laws against them.

    This is shocking, credability in America is at an all time low. Disgusting.

  39. Curtis

    a mistake and a thought

    First off, the teachers did not take the pics, the system admins did. Just a note there, the sysadmins were probably BOFHs and care more about their hardware than anything else.

    Also, with 58,000 pics taken, that's... well... ALOT of pictures. I wonder is they had an automatic program taking the snaps every so often on ALL the computers and only pulled them up when something came up. Like a student whose parents did not buy the insurance on the system that was part of the T&Cs to take the system off campus. The admins note the system is off campus, check the snaps, and notice that the kid is popping what look like white pills (a candy called "Good 'n Plenty" here in the states) resulting in their sticking their noses in and causing this mess.

    However, none of this excuses that the system would have had images on it that qualify as "child pr0n" in this country. This is one of the few crimes in the US that does not have to have an "intent" side, as simply possessing the images is the crime. Just ask the hated teacher that got fired because his students sent him dirty pics and called the cops.

  40. Anonymous Coward
    Big Brother

    This Icon

    Is there any way to make it bigger?

  41. Tom 13

    More than 10,000 pictures per PC and 'No criminal intent'?

    Not buying it from Michael Mann, not buying it from the Philly DA. String up that DA right alongside the administrator(s) who thought this was a defensible idea. A wise man once said "nothing focuses the mind as much as a good hanging" and it seems we need to focus a lot of minds in Philly.

  42. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It's sounds weirdly sensible

    Why aren't they arresting some hapless employee at random, counting every electron his computer emitted as a separate instance of "wire fraud" and threatening him with 10^56 years in prison? Isn't that the way policy is determined in the USA?

  43. Someone Else Silver badge

    What an immense load of shee-yit!

    "It later emerged that 58,000 pictures of students and their friends and family were taken by the school district, which issued 2,300 MacBooks to students.

    An independent report by a computer forensics expert and former prosecutor found no proof of a deliberate campaign to spy on students [...]"

    " sir, Mr. Prosecutor, sir, we didn't have a "deliberate campaign" to acquire our own provate stash of kiddie porn..uhhhh...spy on our students. No sirree! We simply **accidently* captured over 58 **thousand** pictures. Yeah...that's it...**accidental**...that's the ticket...yeah....

    Mah, noor!

  44. Sam Therapy
    Thumb Down

    No criminal intent?

    So, breaking the law when you weren't aware there was a law to break is now a reasonable defence? That should also apply to the US law of Reckless Endangerment, which as far as I'm aware, makes no allowances for the consequences of one's actions. Or to put it another way, "if you didn't know something was going to happen, that's your own damn fault".

    Christ on a pogo stick.

  45. Anonymous Coward

    Analysis needed

    Those 58,000 pictures were of how many children? It would be interesting to know if some children were far above the average of 25 snaps each. Given the lackadaisical attitude of law enforcement it would be nice to get an idea of what the "administration" was really interested in and perhaps help the parents determine which of their children are more at risk from these school stalkers.

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