Lawsuit: School administrator ‘may be a voyeur’ who spied on kids for personal gratification
A Philadelphia-area school district secretly took “thousands” of webcam photos of students in their homes and tracked their Web site visits and parts of online chats through spy software installed on the students’ school-issued laptops, a Pennsylvania court heard yesterday.
In February, the family of Blake Robbins, a student at Harriton High School in Rosemont, sued the Lower Merion School District after the district admitted to them it had been spying on students via a remote-activated feature on the laptops it issued to all its 2,300 high school pupils.
In a motion filed in court on Thursday, Robbins’ lawyers asserted that the school district had taken at least 400 snapshots of 15-year-old Robbins, including some of him sleeping. The motion also stated that “thousands of webcam pictures and screen shots have been taken of numerous other students in their homes,” the Philadelphia Inquirer reports.
And in a strange twist to the story, the lawyers also suggested that Carol Cafiero, one of two school administrators with access to the spying technology, “may be a voyeur” who spied on students for her personal gratification, as some of the images taken by the laptops may have ended up on her personal computer.
The motion asks the judge to force Cafiero to turn over her home computer, which she has refused to do so far. Earlier this week, during a deposition, Cafiero pleaded the Fifth Amendment to all questions regarding her involvement in the alleged school spying.
Watching the students at home was like “a little [Lower Merion School District] soap opera,” said a staffer in an email obtained by Robbins’ lawyers.
“I know, I love it,” Cafiero responded in a reply email, as quoted at the Inquirer.
If true, the allegations against Cafiero would realize privacy advocates’ worst fears about the school district’s monitoring of students at home: That the technology is all too open to abuse by those who would seek to exploit children.
So far, there have been no allegations that the cameras captured any images of nude students, which could fall within the definition of child pornography.
On Thursday, the judge presiding over the case in a federal courtroom in Philadelphia restricted access to the images to the lawyers involved in the case, reports KYW news radio. The school board says it will soon notify the parents of children whose pictures were taken by the spy software, and is working on a way to transfer the photos to the parents, the Inquirer reported Friday.
The latest claims made against the school district contradict what the district itself has said about the use of the cameras. In February, when news of the spy software broke, the school districtpublished a statement saying administrators had activated the monitoring system only 42 times, most of those in order to retrieve lost or stolen laptops.
But the allegations made Thursday suggest “there were 42 instances when they began intensive surveillance on the suspected stolen computers,” reports tech blog Slashdot. “This consisted of (among other things) transmitting a picture from the laptop’s webcam every 15 minutes. This may have gone on for weeks.”
The school district announced in February it was shutting down the spy software, shortly after news of the spy software went public.
Robbins’ family launched the lawsuit two months ago after Blake Robbins was called into a vice-principal’s office and accused of taking drugs. As evidence, the vice-principal showed a photo of pills in Robbins’ bedroom. The Robbins family said the pills were candy, and launched a class-action lawsuit alleging the school district violated Blake’s right to privacy.
This week, Sen. Arlen Specter (D-PA), who held hearings into the Lower Merion School District’s spying activities, introduced legislation limiting the use of surveillance software.
The proposed Surreptitious Video Surveillance Act of 2010 “would update the federal wiretapping statute to create serious criminal and civil penalties for secret, nonconsensual video surveillance inside any temporary or permanent residence, be it your house, your apartment, or your hotel room,”reports the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
According to a document obtained by the ACLU under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) on Tuesday March 16, the 9/11 commission was warned on Jan. 6th, 2004 by high-level administration officials to “not cross the line” in the investigation of the events that occurred on Sept. 11, 2001.
Here’s a copy of the letter in question (page 26 of the PDF document).
Department of Defense Department of Justice Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)
National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States
Thomas H. Kean, Chairman Lee H. Hamilton, Vice Chairman
Your staff has advised us that the Commission seeks to participate in the questioning of certain enemy combatants detained in the war against terrorists of global reach. Such action by the Commission would substantially interfere with the ability of the United States to perform its law enforcement, defense and intelligence functions in the protection of the American people.
Your legislative commission has had extraordinary — indeed, unprecedented in the annals of American history — access to many of the Nation’s most sensitive secrets in the conduct of its work, including detainee information. In response to the Commission’s expansive requests for access to secrets, the executive branch has provided such access in full cooperation. There is, however, a line that the Commission should not cross — the line separating the Commission’s proper inquiry into the September 11, 2001 attacks from interference with the Government’s ability to safeguard the national security, including protection of Americans from future terrorist attacks. The Commission staffs proposed participation in questioning of detainees would cross that line.
As the officers of the United States responsible for the law enforcement, defense and intelligence functions of the Government, we urge your Commission to not further pursue the proposed request to participate in the questioning of detainees.
John Ashcroft, Attorney General Donald H. Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defense George J. Tenet, Director of Central Intelligence
9/11 Commission findings based on torture
In December of 2009, we have published an important article titled “Much of 9/11 Commission findings cite intelligence garnered by torture” in which we describe that much of the material cited in the 9/11 Commission’s findings was derived from war detainees during brutal CIA interrogations authorized by the Bush administration. In fact, information derived from the interrogations was central to the 9/11 Report’s most critical chapters, those on the planning and execution of the attacks.
The CIA has since revealed that in 2005 it destroyed videotapes of prisoners being tortured.
When asked by MSNBC News anchor if “under duress, will people tell the truth if tortured?” former CIA officer Robert Baer answered “under duress, under the threat of duress, people will tell what they think you want to hear. It is an unreliable tool. And the reason I say this is I have spent 21 years in the CIA, in and out of prisons watching these techniques, one way or another, reading reports, and the countries that torture, uniformly produce inaccurate intelligence. Torture does not work.”
They also talk about Khalid Shaikh Mohammed who has been waterboarded over 183 times.
The below text is a excerpt of the Examiner.com article on this newly released memo
The warning in the memo released by the government to the ACLU is just one example of how the Bush administration fiercely struggled to prevent the 9/11 Commission from conducting a deeper probe into the attacks. It is common knowledge that Bush and Cheney refused to cooperate with the investigation and when forced to do so, only testified together, not under oath.
9/11 Commissioners criticism
What may not be known to many Americans is that members of the 9/11 Commission have publicly stated that the investigation was a whitewash, and stymied from the beginning.
“I’m saying that’s deliberate. I am saying that the delay in relating this information to the American public out of a hearing… series of hearings, that several members of Congress knew eight or ten months ago, including Bob Graham and others, that was deliberately slow walked… the 9/11 Commission was deliberately slow walked, because the Administration’s policy was, and its priority was, we’re gonna take Saddam Hussein out.”
— Senator Max Cleland, former 9/11 Commissioner who resigned after calling it a “national scandal”
On Democracy Now, Cleland also said, “One of these days we will have to get the full story because the 9-11 issue is so important to America. But this White House wants to cover it up”.
In 2006 the Washington Post reported that several members of the 9/11 Commission suspected deception on part of the Pentagon:
Some staff members and commissioners of the Sept. 11 panel concluded that the Pentagon’s initial story of how it reacted to the 2001 terrorist attacks may have been part of a deliberate effort to mislead the commission and the public rather than a reflection of the fog of events on that day, according to sources involved in the debate.
9/11 Commissioner Bob Kerry also has unanswered questions. According to an article in Salon.com, he believes that there are legitimate reasons to believe an alternative version to the official story.”There are ample reasons to suspect that there may be some alternative to what we outlined in our version,” Kerry said. The commission had limited time and limited resources to pursue its investigation, and its access to key documents and witnesses was obstructed by government agencies and key administration officials.
Commissioner Tim Roemer suggested that Commission members were considering a criminal probe of false statements. “We were extremely frustrated with the false statements we were getting,”Roemer told CNN. “We were not sure of the intent, whether it was to deceive the commission or merely part of the fumbling bureaucracy.”
The document that the ACLU has obtained corroborates what officials involved in the 9/11 Commission have been saying for years. The entire “investigation” was nothing more than a whitewash designed to hide the facts about 9/11 from the American people.