PHILADELPHIA – School officials in Pennsylvania who admit remotely activating student webcams to locate missing laptops could have used far less intrusive methods such as GPS tracking devices, technology and privacy experts say.

The Lower Merion School District instead finds itself defending a potential class-action lawsuit after a student complained of being photographed inside his home and accused of selling drugs.

The FBI is investigating the school district for possible wiretap and computer-use violations.

”The issues raised by these allegations are wide-ranging and involve the meeting of the new world of cyberspace with that of physical space. Our focus will only be on whether anyone committed any crimes,” U.S. Attorney Michael Levy said Monday, taking the unusual step of confirming the FBI and Justice Department investigation.

While pledging to cooperate with investigators, lawyers for the district also appeared in court for the first time Monday in the civil case, negotiating an agreement aimed at preserving computer evidence. The district agreed not to destroy any evidence that might be found on its servers or on the nearly 2,300 laptops issued to students at its two high schools.

Harriton High School student Blake Robbins and his family hope to learn ”whether there were systematic violations or whether this is an isolated instance,” said their lawyer, Mark Haltzman.

The district activated the webcams after 42 laptops disappeared in the past 14 months. Eighteen were located, district spokesman Doug Young said Monday. He did not immediately know whether any were found — after webcam pictures were taken — in student homes.

Young declined to discuss whether Robbins’ laptop was reported missing.