Tom Leonard
The Age

School administrators have been spying on students and their families at home after giving them laptops fitted with webcams, according to a parents' lawsuit.

Michael and Holly Robbins claim they were alerted when an assistant principal at Harriton High School told their son, Blake, in November that he was ''engaged in improper behaviour in his home'', citing a photo taken on his laptop webcam.

The Lower Merion School District, which administers a Philadelphia suburb that is one of the wealthiest parts of Pennsylvania, issued all 1800 students at its two high schools with laptops so they could access materials at home.

However, according to a civil action filed in the local US district court, neither parents nor their children were warned that the access worked both ways.

Mr Robbins said he later verified through Harriton High School's assistant principal, Lindy Matsko, that the school district could at any time remotely activate the webcam in a student's laptop and ''view and capture'' whatever image was in its line of sight, without the user's knowledge or permission.

The lawsuit argues that many of the images ''may consist of minors and their parents or friends in compromising or embarrassing positions'' including ''stages of undress''.

The Robbins family has filed a class-action suit on behalf of all parents and pupils against the school district, its board of directors and its superintendent. They are seeking damages for invasion of privacy, theft of private information and unlawful interception.

The laptops were given out as part of a ''one-to-one'' computer initiative led by Christopher McGinley, the school's superintendent.