On schools and spy cameras

First, you’ll want to have a look at this article on Boing Boing. A brief excerpt:

According to the filings in Blake J Robbins v Lower Merion School District (PA) et al, the laptops issued to high-school students in the well-heeled Philly suburb have webcams that can be covertly activated by the schools’ administrators, who have used this facility to spy on students and even their families. The issue came to light when the Robbins’s child was disciplined for “improper behavior in his home” and the Vice Principal used a photo taken by the webcam as evidence.

Now, a brief note that I know you’ll enjoy. You may remember our two cases involving online student speech, Layshock v Hermitage School District and JS v Blue Mountain School District, in which conflicting rulings were issued simultaneously on February 4 by two different Third Circuit panels. In the Layshock case, one panel ruled unanimously that a school could not discipline a student for online speech created outside of school. In JS, another panel ruled (in a 2-to-1 decision) pretty much the exact opposite. It’s a bit baffling.

Now here’s the good part: during arguments in the JS case, Judge D. Michael Fisher, who wrote the majority opinion, remarked that “it’s not as if there’s a fear that schools will begin monitoring student behavior in the home.”

I wonder if Judge Fisher reads Boing Boing.

Edit, 2/19/10: By request, here is a link to the complaint in Robbins v Lower Merion School District, the case referenced in the Boing Boing article.

Chris in Philly
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Last week was a good week at the state capitol

The joke around here is that civil liberties are safest when the state legislature is on vacation. So please look at that headline again and enjoy it. Here’s what we had cooking last week.

Shackling pregnant inmates in childbirth: Senate Bill 1074 would ban the practice of restraining pregnant inmates during childbirth in Pennsylvania’s state prisons and county jails. The ACLU of PA supports the bill.

It’s hard to believe that this is even an issue. As one Senate staffer said to me, “I can’t believe we have to legislate commonsense.” Sadly, the ACLU of PA and our allies have heard anecdotes of this happening. There’s a word for people who think that a woman in labor is a flight risk- men.

Last Tuesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously voted the bill to the floor of the Senate.

Philadelphia Weekly and even the BBC have covered the issue. On Sunday, The Patriot News of Harrisburg editorialized in favor of SB 1074:

Legislators should pass this measure so no more babies are born to mothers shackled while in labor, like some scene from medieval times. Pennsylvania can do better.

The powers of the PA Game Commission: Under current law, officers of the Pennsylvania Game Commission can stop and search a person “at any time.” That’s actually how the law is written. House Bill 181 would require commission officers to follow the same standards as police officers- reasonable suspicion for a stop and probable cause for a search. The ACLU of PA supports the bill.

HB 181 passed out of the Senate Game and Fisheries Committee on a unanimous vote, and the bill is in its legislative home stretch. Barring a Senate floor amendment, it now only needs to be passed by the Senate before going to the governor. At this point, the governor’s position on the bill is not known, so we will be working hard to advocate with him in favor of HB 181.

Sexting: The House Judiciary Committee was scheduled to consider House Bill 2189, which deals with teenagers sending semi-nude, nude, and sexually provocative pictures of themselves and others to romantic partners and friends. You may be aware that we have a pending case involving an overzealous DA who thought girls in their underwear was child pornography.

HB 2189 is so broad that constitutionally-protected activity would suddenly become a crime. A teenage couple consensually sending nude pictures to each other would be criminal, but this activity is protected by the First Amendment. If this bill becomes law as it is currently written, it will most certainly be challenged. The Times Tribune and WITF-FM have covered some of our concerns with the bill.

But a storm is gathering. And I use that phrase on purpose. Last week Senator John Eichelberger announced his plan to introduce a state constitutional amendment banning same sex marriage. The commonwealth has a financial crisis, a pension crisis, and a corrections crisis, but Senator Eichelberger thinks the best thing he can do with his time is worry about the gay couple next door.

We beat this in 06. We beat it in 08. Let’s go for the three-peat in 10.

Also, the sexting bill is back on the House Judiciary Committee’s agenda for February 9, and none of our concerns have been addressed. We’re putting on the full court press with assistance from the Juvenile Law Center.

I don’t want to end on a downer, so here’s some good news. We are cautiously optimistic that the shackling bill, SB 1074, and the Game Commission bill, HB 181, will both get positive votes before the full Senate in March or April.

And beware of big gay rainstorms in your future…..

Andy in Harrisburg

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