Webcam-Spying Pennsylvania High School Avoids Federal Charges

Remember that Lower Merion, PA high school’s webcam spying scandal? Well, federal prosecutors have decided not to file any criminal charges against the school. That’s not to say they’ll escape scot-free, though.



Back in February, the affluent Lower Merion High School, located in the suburbs just west of Philadelphia known as the Pennsylvania Main Line, suffered a huge scandal involving the Apple MacBook laptops the school hands out to every student. (Lower Merion is a public school district, for the record.)

The laptops were equipped with security software that allowed school administrators and security to use the embedded webcams at will. If a laptop was stolen, security could snap a picture of whoever’s using it, which would presumably make for a fast return of the stolen property. Lower Merion administrators insisted that the feature was only used for that purpose.

That explanation doesn’t really explain how sophomore Blake Robbins was reprimanded for “improper behavior in his home,” with webcam photos presented as evidence. It doesn’t explain why the school district felt it necessary to take over 55,000 photos–surely there’s no need to take photos except in the case of reported theft, and there’s no way there’s that much theft in Lower Merion. (Disclosure: I grew up about ten minutes from Lower Merion, and can vouch for the area’s utter, often dull, lack of crime.)

The AP reported today that federal prosecutors have, despite public opinion and, arguably, common sense, decided not to file any criminal charges against the school district. U.S. Attorney Zane David Memeger says “investigators have found no evidence of criminal intent,” the reason for the lack of a further investigation.

Of course, there are several civil suits ongoing against the school district, including one from Blake Robbins, which are unaffected by the announcement, so if you’re as offended by the school district’s actions as the entire Internet seems to be, don’t worry–there’s still time for a legal smackdown.

Dan Nosowitz, the author of this post, can be followed on Twitter, corresponded with via email, and stalked in Brooklyn (no link for that one–you’ll have to do the legwork yourself).

About the author

Dan Nosowitz is a freelance writer and editor who has written for Popular Science, The Awl, Gizmodo, Fast Company, BuzzFeed, and elsewhere. He holds an undergraduate degree from McGill University and currently lives in Brooklyn, because he has a beard and glasses and that's the law.