Inconsistent policies. Shoddy record-keeping. Misstep after misstep. "Overzealous" use of technology "without any apparent regard for privacy considerations."
Those were the conclusions a team of attorneys and computer experts reached after a 10-week investigation into how, when, and why the Lower Merion School District turned on the Web cams and software that secretly snapped thousands of photos and screen shots from student's laptop computers.
The report, released Monday night, found that the software activated by the district in the last two years captured nearly 58,000 images, mostly from lost or stolen laptops.
But because employees frequently failed to turn off the tracking system, more than 50,000 of those images were taken after the computers had been recovered and given back to students.
Many were photos of students, their friends, or families, in their homes or elsewhere, the report said.
A footnote mentioned "a number of photographs of males without shirts," but the report said no images contained "nudity" or otherwise appeared to show students in a compromising situation. Investigators said they found no proof that school staffers intentionally used the technology to spy on students.
But the report repeatedly faulted employees and administrators in one of the region's elite public school districts as enamored of their cutting-edge technology even as they were blind to its risks.
The improperly collected images, the report said, "resulted from the district's failure to implement policies, procedures, and record-keeping requirements, and the overzealous and questionable use of technology by [information services] personnel without any apparent regard for privacy considerations or sufficient consultation with administrators."
The 69-page report, presented during a school board meeting at Harriton High School, was designed to be the most comprehensive explanation to date of the infamous and now-disabled tracking program.
Released by Henry E. Hockeimer Jr., a former federal prosecutor hired by the district, it marked the latest chapter in a saga that erupted with a lawsuit two months ago and has since sparked an FBI probe, an international spotlight, and a debate about privacy and technology.
The lawyers and L3, a computer forensics firm, together reviewed more than 500,000 documents, images and e-mails to piece together how and when Lower Merion used the theft-tracking feature on the software known as LanRev. They interviewed 42 people, including each school board member, 31 district employees, and two Lower Merion police officers.
Because of the ongoing litigation, the investigators did not question any students in the district, the report said. They also did not talk to Virginia DiMedio, the longtime administrator who oversaw Lower Merion's technology department and approved the purchase of the tracking software in 2007.
DiMedio retired last June. As the report noted, she declined to meet with the investigators because the school district would not provide her with a lawyer.
But some of the most pointed criticism in Hockeimer's report seemed aimed at DiMedio and the technology staffers below her who set up and managed the system. The report said those employees "were not forthcoming" about the technology and were unwilling "to let anyone outside" their department know about the tracking capabilities.
The report also disputed DiMedio's claim, reported in Sunday's Inquirer, that she asked several times to meet with district lawyers to discuss unforeseen problems with the district's laptop initiative.
"We found no evidence that Ms. DiMedio or any other district personnel specifically advised the solicitor of the existence of TheftTrack or sought advice from the solicitor concerning its use," the report states.
DiMedio did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday night.
The report said her successor, George Frazier, told investigators that when he joined the administration last summer, he discovered a technical department he called "the Wild West, because there were few official policies and no manuals of procedures and personnel were not regularly evaluated."
Frazier told investigators he had reservations about the theft-tracking software but never raised them with district lawyers because he was "focused on issues that he considered more pressing."
Others also deserved blame, the report said. School board members failed to ask the right questions.
In August 2008, the report said, district lawyers began drafting agreements for students and parents to sign to acknowledge that they had no expectation of privacy with the laptops. But those waivers were never handed out.
"We have not yet learned what became of those drafts," the investigators said.
Though billed as an independent investigation, the report was prepared by lawyers from Ballard Spahr, the law firm the district has hired to defend it in the lawsuit filed by Harriton sophomore Blake Robbins and his parents. Robbins, who was photographed in his Penn Valley home by his school-issued laptop, contends the system represented an invasion of his privacy.
According to the report, Robbins borrowed a laptop from the school last October because the one he had been issued was damaged. A technician turned on his Web cam after officials realized he had taken the loaner computer off-campus - and that he had not paid the $55 insurance fee required of every student.
But investigators said they had conflicting accounts from assistant principal Lindy Matkso and technician Kyle O'Brien about who ordered the activation and why.
They kept tracking Robbins' laptop even after one technician e-mailed O'Brien to say that the laptop had been located. The teen's computer was "currently online at home," the e-mail said.
Investigators also said they found no evidence that Robbins' mother, Holly, tried to contact school officials about the tracking before filing the suit, as she told the Philadelphia Daily News.
The report noted conflicting accounts from district employees, gaps in data, and said investigators were still gathering evidence as recently as Sunday.
Reports of stolen or missing laptops triggered the vast majority of activations of the tracking system, investigators determined. But they were stymied in 16 instances - 10 for students' laptops, six for teachers'. The report labeled these as "Activations for Reasons Unknown."
The investigators offered recommendations for new district policies, including strict privacy protections and curbs on purchases of intrusive technology. But they struggled to answer a central question:
Why did no one foresee the furor that has erupted?
"Our investigation leaves unresolved questions that raise serious concerns about why so many images were captured without apparent regard for privacy considerations," the report said.
About 150 parents, some carrying signs that said "Parents 4 LMSD," filled the Harriton auditorium Monday night as Hockeimer used a PowerPoint presentation to release his report.
More than a dozen parents and students spoke, most in support of the district. "I do believe we have the information we need to go forward," said Andy Darrow, parent of a Harriton student. "I could not be more proud of this school district."
A woman who said she is grandmother to five students drew cheers when she called on the board to resign. And Michael Salmanson, father of an elementary school student, challenged the report's conclusion that there was no spying. "I'd define that as looking at someone without their consent," he said. "That certainly happened."
Superintendent Christopher McGinley said the district would learn from its mistakes. "We must restore confidence," he said, "by what we do - not what we say - starting immediately."
Read the Lower Merion district's report via http://go.philly.com/