Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Feds Say Judge Hampering Webcam Spy Probe

Via Wired.com (Threat Level) -

Prosecutors are claiming that a federal judge is hampering a criminal investigation into a webcam scandal at a Philadelphia suburban school district.

The evidence prosecutors are seeking is connected to a federal civil lawsuit in which the plaintiff’s lawyers claim that the Lower Merion School District secretly snapped thousands of webcam images of students using school-issued laptops without the pupils’ knowledge or consent.

U.S. District Judge Jan DuBois, who is presiding over the civil case, two weeks ago ordered that evidence should only be disseminated to those connected to the civil lawsuit. (.pdf) U.S. Attorney Michael Levy wrote the judge, saying Friday that her freeze order “interfered with the government’s obligation to investigate possible criminal conduct occurring within this district.”

Levy asks the court to “modify its order to permit the government access.” (.pdf) Among other things, Levy wants to examine what plaintiffs lawyers contend are thousands of screenshots school-supplied MacBooks took of an unknown number of children, some of which might include nude or partially clothed shots.

While it remains unclear whether the secret and remote filming of students is a federal crime, taking nude images of children is likely criminal conduct. A federal grand jury and the FBI are said to be looking into the district’s actions.

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