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School district pays up after using webcam to watch student at home

A student uses a laptop computer

The Lower Merion School District in Pennsylvania will pay $610,000 to settle a case involving laptop computers equipped with webcams loaned out to students. The conflict started when student Blake Robbins was called into the vice principal's office and accused of doing drugs in his own bedroom (Robbins says that what the school thought were pills were actually Mike & Ike candies). The district said they had activated the web camera on many computers as part of an effort to prevent theft and recover lost or stolen computers.

Robbins' parents sued the school and 56,000 screen shots of various students at home were found on the district's computers. In August, an FBI investigation found insufficient evidence to pursue criminal charges in the case. As part of this settlement, Robbins will receive $175,000.

We talk to reporter Susan Phillips from public radio station WHYY in Philadelphia. She walks us through the case. We also check in with Jeffrey Rosen from George Washington University Law School. He says that while technology evolves quickly (who could have imagined schools giving kids webcam-enabled laptops even a few years ago?), the old laws, like the Fourth Amendment's language against unreasonable search and seizure, still apply.

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