Man who hid spy camera in air freshener is put on sex offenders register while the US school webcam case reveils more details *
By Fay Schlesinger
Lecturer who hid spy camera in air freshener to spy on woman tenant in the shower spared jail
A top university lecturer planted a spy camera in a bathroom air freshener to watch students shower.
Paul Hwang, who has taught and studied at elite universities including Oxford, Cambridge and Harvard, hid a digital camera in the house he was renting out to six women.
Today the 33-year-old Australian national’s illustrious teaching career was in tatters after he pleaded guilty to voyeurism.
The married academic was teaching business studies at Birmingham’s University College when he planted the spy equipment in a shower room.
One tenant discovered the device after noticing that an Air Wicks freshener appeared to be ’swinging from side to side’ from a gap in the wall in October last year.
Later the same day she noticed that the freshener, which was attached to the wall and directed at the shower cubicle, had disappeared.
A few days later it reappeared. When the woman took it apart, she was ’shocked and disgusted’ to discover a digital camera connected to a battery inside, plus a small hand-drilled hole, the court heard.
Richard Franck, prosecuting, said: ‘The victim said she thought it was rather disgusting, and that she was worried the images might have been passed on to somebody else.’
When police arrested Hwang, they raided his bedroom and found smoke alarms rigged up with radio transmitters, as well as two more spy cameras and cable equipment.
His relationship with his Australian wife has been stretched ‘to breaking point’ by his voyeurism, the court heard and he has since been dismissed from his teaching post.
Sentencing Hwang at Birmingham Crown Court, judge Roderick Henderson handed him a three-year community order and placed him on the sex offenders’ register.
Judge Henderson said: ‘Having let property to six females in the autumn of last year… you installed in the bathroom an air freshener CCTV camera which allowed you to watch these young women when they undressed in the bathroom, in a place where they had every reason to expect they were in private.
‘It is not surprising to hear that the victim of these offences was shocked and disgusted, and very frightened that images would be saved, might be passed on to other people or put on the internet.
‘The most simple way to commit these offences is to creep up on people in the woods or look through their window, but these offences were a significant level above that as you were in a position of trust.’
He added: ‘In your work life you were a very pleasant person, but you had this very unpleasant secret which none of your colleagues knew about. You will rightly be the subject of very public humiliation.’
By John P. Martin
Lawyer: Laptops took thousands of images
The system that Lower Merion school officials used to track lost and stolen laptops wound up secretly capturing thousands of images, including photographs of students in their homes, Web sites they visited, and excerpts of their online chats, says a new motion filed in a suit against the district.
More than once, the motion asserts, the camera on Robbins’ school-issued laptop took photos of Robbins as he slept in his bed. Each time, it fired the images off to network servers at the school district.
Back at district offices, the Robbins motion says, employees with access to the images marveled at the tracking software. It was like a window into “a little LMSD soap opera,” a staffer is quoted as saying in an e-mail to Carol Cafiero, the administrator running the program.
“I know, I love it,” she is quoted as having replied.
Those details, disclosed in the motion filed late Thursday in federal court by Robbins’ attorney, offer a wider glimpse into the now-disabled program that spawned Robbins’ lawsuit and has shined an international spotlight on the district.
In the filing, the Penn Valley family claims the district’s records show that the controversial tracking system captured more than 400 photos and screen images from 15-year-old Blake Robbins’ school-issued laptop during two weeks last fall, and that “thousands of webcam pictures and screen shots have been taken of numerous other students in their homes.”
Robbins, a sophomore at Harriton High School, and his parents, Michael and Holly Robbins, contend e-mails turned over to them by the district suggest Cafiero “may be a voyeur” who might have viewed some of the photos on her home computer.
Since the Robbinses sued in February, district officials have acknowledged that they activated the theft-tracking software on school-issued laptops 42 times since September, and a number of times in the previous school year - all in order to retrieve lost or stolen computers.
But they have stopped short of specifying how many students may have been photographed and monitored, or how often - information that could shed light on whether Robbins’ experience was unique or common.
An attorney for the district declined to comment last night on the Robbinses’ latest motion, except to say that a report due in a few weeks will spell out what the district’s own investigation has found.
“To the extent there is any evidence of misuse of any images, that also will be disclosed,” said the attorney, former federal prosecutor Henry E. Hockeimer Jr. “However, at this late stage of our investigation we are not aware of any such evidence.”
The Robbinses’ lawyer, Mark S. Haltzman, said the new details emerged in tens of thousands of pages of documents and e-mails the district turned over to him in recent weeks.
Three district employees have also given sworn depositions in the suit. A fourth, Cafiero, declined to answer Haltzman’s questions, asserting her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
According to the latest filing by the Robbinses, officials first activated the tracking software on a school-issued Apple MacBook that Robbins took home on Oct. 20.
Hundreds of times in the next two weeks, the filing says, the program did its job each time it was turned on: A tiny camera atop the laptop snapped a photo, software inside copied the laptop screen image, and a locating device recorded the Internet address - something that could help district technicians pinpoint where the machine was.
The system was designed to take a new picture every 15 minutes until it was turned off.
The material disclosed by the district contains hundreds of photos of Robbins and his family members - “including pictures of Blake partially undressed and of Blake sleeping,” the motion states.
Through Haltzman, the Robbinses last night gave The Inquirer a photo they said was among the Web cam images turned over by school officials. The picture shows Blake asleep in bed at 5 p.m. last Oct. 26, the lawyer said.
Robbins and his parents say they first learned of the technology on Nov. 11, when an assistant Harriton principal confronted the teen with an image collected by the tracking software.
Robbins has said one image showed him with a handful of Mike and Ike candies - which the administrator thought were illegal pills.
The family’s lawyers have argued that neither Blake nor many of the other students whose laptop cameras were activated had reported those laptops missing or stolen. According to the motion, an unspecified number of laptops were being tracked because students had failed to return computers or pay a required insurance fee.
The district has said it turned on the camera in Robbins’ computer because his family had not paid the $55 insurance fee and he was not authorized to take the laptop home.
U.S. District Judge Jan E. DuBois has ordered all parties in the case to meet by Tuesday, the latest step toward a settlement. Meanwhile, federal and county investigators are examining whether the laptop security program violated any laws.
Also Thursday, Sen. Arlen Specter (D., Pa.) introduced legislation to close what he said was a loophole in federal wiretap laws and prevent unauthorized monitoring. Specter recently held a hearing in Philadelphia on the issue.
“Many of us expect to be subject to certain kinds of video surveillance when we leave our homes and go out each day - at the ATM, at traffic lights, or in stores, for example,” Specter, who is running for reelection, said on the floor of the Senate. “What we do not expect is to be under visual surveillance in our homes, in our bedrooms and, most especially, we do not expect it for our children in our homes.”
By John P. Martin
Lower Merion schools: Number of webcam photos “substantial”
The Lower Merion School District today acknowledged that investigators reviewing its controversial laptop tracking program have recovered “a substantial number of webcam photos” and that they expect to soon start notifying parents whose children were photographed.
Responding to a motion filed Thursday as part of a lawsuit brought by the family of a Harriton High School sophomore, School Board President David Ebby said the district’s lawyers have proposed enlisting Chief U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas Rueter to supervise a system by which parents are to be notified and allowed to view the photos.
“We hope to start that process shortly,” Ebby said in a statement addressed to parents and guardians and posted on the district’s website. “During that process the privacy of all students will be strongly protected.”
Ebby’s comments came a day after a lawyer for Harriton sophomore Blake Robbins filed a motion in federal court asserting that the system had secretly captured “thousands of images of webcam pictures and screen shots,” including photos of students, the Web sites they visited and excerpts of their online chats.
School officials have thus far declined to say how many students were photographed by the system, which was instituted in September 2008 to locate missing or stolen laptops. The district has commissioned an internal investigation and promises to release its results within a few weeks.