Norcross “Anti-Big Brother Act” Passed By Senate

Legislation to deter monitoring without oversight advances

(TRENTON) – The “Anti-Big Brother Act” (S-2057) sponsored by Senator Donald Norcross (D-Camden/Gloucester) was passed out of the Senate today. Senator Norcross crafted the bill after events in the Lower Merion School District in Montgomery Township, PA where students – without their knowledge or consent – were recorded and monitored in their homes through school-issued laptops.

“Parents have a right to know when their children are bringing home devices that could record them and their families,” added Senator Norcross. “They need to be able to make an informed decision about how and when their child uses these educational tools.”

In what has since been dubbed “WebcamGate,” staff at the Lower Merion school district remotely accessed students’ school-issued laptops while the students were using them at home. Over 66,000 images of students taken by their laptop cameras had been transmitted to district administrators. Students had not been informed of the laptops’ remote access capability.

The issue came to light when a student was disciplined for his behavior at home. Evidence used included an image covertly taken of the student in his bedroom. An investigation uncovered photos of the student – sometimes half-dressed and once while he was sleeping – taken while the laptop was in use. The student’s family – as well as another student who had been recorded – sued the school district, which was ultimately required to pay $610,000 in settlement, lawyer and court fees.

Senator Norcross’s bill would require a school district that furnishes a student with a laptop, computer, cellular telephone, or other electronic device to provide students and their families with written notice that the device may record or collect information on the students’ activities. The notice is required to have a form attached which provides for a parent or guardian signature acknowledging receipt of the form.

“With this vote, the Senate acted to protect our students and avoid the slippery slope of allowing monitoring without oversight,” said Senator Norcross. “We have already seen the dangers of failing to safeguard our children’s privacy in their homes and the importance of making transparency a priority, not an afterthought.”

The measure was advanced in the Senate by a vote of 37 to 1. An identical bill has been referred to the Assembly Education Committee.