A legal case against a school that used government-issued laptops to spy on its pupils has inspired a new Bill to ban video surveillance.
US Democratic senator Arlen Specter proposed the new law on Thursday to make covert surveillance via cameras illegal.
The legislation could require companies to either remove existing monitoring software, or devise contracts with staff to allow monitoring in certain situations.
"Technology is advancing quickly, often faster than our federal laws can keep up," said Specter.
"Cameras in computers and cell phones are ubiquitous, making it urgent that the federal Wiretap Act protect our citizens from unwarranted intrusions in their homes where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy."
The case behind the law involved Lower Merion School District in Pennsylvania, which is accused of using monitoring software in Apple MacBooks issued to students. The case was brought by the parents of student Blake Robbins, who was disciplined for "improper behaviour in his home" based on images taken.
The software used the laptop's webcam to take pictures every 15 minutes, and sent them and a series of screenshots back to the school server. The application was supplied by Absolute Software, which makes the popular Computrace laptop tracking software.
The defence motion (PDF) said that emails submitted by the school show that staff were impressed with the performance of the software.
It was "a little Lower Merion School District soap opera", a member of staff is quoted as saying in an email to Carol Cafiero, the school administrator running the program. "I know, I love it," Cafiero replied.
The school claimed to have activated the tracking software 42 times this year, but only in the case of stolen or missing laptops.
It now appears that the software was activated because Robbins's parents forgot to pay a $55 (£36) insurance fee, and it was left on for over a fortnight, taking thousands of images.
The defence alleges that the school also deleted some of the images of Robbins when asked to hand over files, and that one other student was monitored because he had a similar name to someone under investigation.
The family's lawyer said that he had received statements from all school officials involved, apart from Cafiero, who exercised her Fifth Amendment right to silence. The defence has asked for her personal computer to be examined.
"While we deeply regret the mistakes and misguided actions that have led us to this situation, at this late stage of the investigation we are not aware of any evidence that district employees used any webcam photographs or screenshots for such inappropriate purposes," said the school district in a statement.
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