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April 30, 2010
No Kidding: Spying Isn't Good for School PR

A prestigious school district outside Philadelphia is demonstrating the PR peril in becoming overly enamored of technology, so much so that you overlook the fact that you might be spying on your constituents.

The Lower Merion School District, one of the finest in Pennsylvania if not the nation, faces huge legal bills from a lawsuit that a couple of parents brought after they heard the district was spying on its high-school students through the webcams on their school-issued laptops.

The district's aim was to ferret out missing laptops. As The Philadelphia Daily News reports, over 56,000 photos of students in their homes and bedrooms were amassed by Lower Merion's IT folks via LANrev asset-tracking software. The PR implications of the monitoring became exploded (who, you might ask, could have missed them?) when the parents called the school district and no one responded to the mother involved.

So, in February, the couple headed to court.

The Daily News reports the lawsuit "triggered international headlines, an FBI investigation, new federal wiretapping legislation and even a 'What's Wrong With People?' segment on the 'Dr. Phil' show."

Common sense doesn't necessarily accompany educational prestige, it seems, not even on the Main Line. Be mindful of the PR lessons being learned the hard, expensive way in Lower Merion. Don't spy on kids or mess with parents, and if you do, get back to them when they call.





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Doug Bedell has a background in journalism and PR and is the owner of Resource Relations LLC in Central PA, focusing on organizational and crisis communication. He’s the community manager of SimplyFair.net, a social network on fairness. On the Web, Doug’s at www.ResourceRelations.com. On Twitter, he’s @DougBeetle.
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