Robbins V. Lower Merion School District Assignment
Write a 8-10 minutes speech about Robbins v. Lower Merion School District, School-Issued Laptop “Spy cam” Invades Privacy Rights.
Only focus on:
1. What school did wrong when handling this case.
2. How can they improve their PR strategies when handling this case.
3. What should we do as PR professionals when handling this case.
IMPORTANT: The speech does not have to include long background of the crisis, focus more on these three topics!
I attached the case analysis file that you can read to finish the speech, you can do online research to get more information about the case.
I’m watching you…
School – Issued Laptop “Spycam” Invades Privacy Rights
For years, computers have been a reality in the K-12 educational environment. At its best, technology offers all kinds of possibilities for engaging young people in the learning process. But as anyone who has ever purchased a new gadget knows, technology can have its downside as well. So it was for students at Harriton High School, who discovered that their school-issued Apple laptops could monitor them at home—or anywhere else.
Harriton High School is one of two high schools in the Lower Merion School District (LMSD) that serves 62,000 residents of Lower Merion Township and the Borough of Narberth. The district, located west of Philadelphia, is one of the oldest public schools in Pennsylvania and is affluent, with a median household income of $112,300 in 2010 and a median home value of $583,900. A large renovation project modernized all nine district school buildings, and in 2010 a new $100 million Harriton High School was completed; a $108.5 million Lower Merion High School was under construction. The district’s per student expenditure was one of the highest in the state.
According to the district’s website, LMSD offers a quality educational program and students are high-achieving. Each school:
received recognition for excellence by the Commonwealth and seven have received the National Blue Ribbon Award for Excellence in Education. LMSD schools rank among the highest in Pennsylvania for SAT and PSAT scores, AP Participation rate, total number of National Merit Semifinalists, total number of International Baccalaureate diplomas granted and in numerous publications’ “Top Schools” lists. Approximately 94 percent of high school graduates attend institutions of higher learning.
Newsweek’s “Best High Schools” ranked Harriton High School first in the state; its other high school was ranked third. Famous graduates included NBA basketball legend Kobe Bryant and Alexander Haig, former secretary of state.
A Disturbing Discovery
Thanks to state and federal funding secured by the district’s technology department, each high school student was provided an Apple laptop to enhance his or her learning experience. Students were allowed to take home their assigned laptops to take full advantage of the technology.
On November 11, 2009, Harriton High School student Blake Robbins was confronted by an assistant principal who said that Robbins was engaged in “improper behavior” in his home. Cited as evidence, according to court documents: a photograph from the school-issued laptop webcam showed Robbins eating something that looked like pills on a bed. The photo was taken without his knowledge, permission, or authorization.
Students were unaware that the school district had loaded a software program onto each laptop that gave the district’s technology department the ability to remotely activate the camera embedded in the laptop. When the laptop was operating, the technology department could view the environment in front of the laptop as well as “see” what was on the computer screen, such as documents and e-mails.
The district had installed LANrev, a computer management software system, on all of its district’s 6,500 networked computers, including the laptops. This software allowed the district technology staff to efficiently disseminate software updates and patches and other maintenance work remotely from a central server, which eliminated the need to service each computer individually.
A feature of LANrev was Theft Track, which, when enabled, could assist district officials in locating stolen or lost computers by providing valuable data such as a computer’s geographic environment, visuals of its users, and information from documents. The software could take still photos of anything in front of the laptop from the webcam and screenshots of what was on the computer screen.
At the time, students and their parents were required to sign an Acceptable Use Guidelines document to use the district-owned laptops; it included a reference to the district’s policy for appropriate use of the district’s network, but the signed agreement did not include information about the Theft Track feature specifically. No district policy was created to handle issues regarding Theft Track. In addition, there were no restrictions imposed on district technology staff use of LANrev’s tracking features. The technology administrator hired after the purchase of LANrev later described the technology department as the “Wild West” because of the lack of protocols to guide staff about rapidly advancing technology issues.
In most instances, the Theft Track feature was activated on specific laptops when a school administrator or technology department member was informed that a student had reported his or her laptop stolen or lost. The intent was to use the tracking features to help locate the missing laptop. Within a year and a half, thirteen student laptops had been reported stolen and six of those were recovered by the local police with district-provided information.
Lower Merion School District’s Response
LMSD’s District Superintendent Dr. Christopher W. McGinley became aware of the Robbins’ lawsuit February 18, 2010, and developed an e-mail statement containing preliminary answers to questions which was posted at 4:45 p.m. Later that evening a letter from McGinley for parents was also posted on the district website at 9:26 p.m. and shared with the news media.
Recent publicity regarding the District’s one-to-one high school laptop initiative, and questions about the security of student laptops prompted our administration to revisit security procedures.
Laptops are a frequent target for theft in schools and off school property. District laptops do contain a security feature intended to track lost, stolen and missing laptops. The security feature, which was disabled today, was installed to help locate a laptop in the event it was reported lost, missing or stolen so that the laptop could be returned to the student.
Upon a report of a suspected lost, stolen or missing laptop, the feature was activated by the District’s security and technology departments. The security feature’s capabilities were limited to taking a still image of the operator and the operator’s screen. This feature was only used for the narrow purpose of locating a lost, stolen or missing laptop. The District never activated the security feature for any other purpose or in any other manner whatsoever.
As a result of our preliminary review of security procedures today, I directed the following actions:
· Immediate disabling of the security-tracking program.
· A thorough review of the existing policies for student laptop use.
· A review of security procedures to help safeguard the protection of privacy; including a review of the instances in which the security software was activated. We want to ensure that any affected students and families are made aware of the outcome of laptop recovery investigations.
· A review of any other technology areas in which the intersection of privacy and security may come into play.