Pa. school district settles webcam spy lawsuits for $610K


Lower Merion will no longer use the tracking program.
Lower Merion will no longer use the tracking program.

A Philadelphia-area school district agreed Monday to pay $610,000 to settle two lawsuits over secret photos taken on school-issued laptops.

The Lower Merion School District admitted it captured thousands of webcam photographs and screen shots from student laptops in a misguided effort to locate missing computers.

Harriton High School student Blake Robbins, then 15, charged in an explosive civil-rights lawsuit filed in February that the district used its remote tracking technology to spy on him inside his home. Later evidence unearthed in the case showed that he was photographed 400 times in a two-week period, sometimes as he slept in his bedroom, according to his lawyer, Mark Haltzman.

The settlement calls for $175,000 to be placed in a trust for Robbins and $10,000 for a second student who filed suit, Jalil Hassan. Their lawyer, Mark Haltzman, will get $425,000 for his work on the case.

The FBI investigated whether the district broke any criminal wiretap laws, but prosecutors declined to bring any charges.

“Although we would have valued the opportunity to finally share an important, untold story in the courtroom, we recognize that in this case, a lengthy, costly trial would benefit no one,” school board President David Ebby said in a statement late Monday. “It would have been an unfair distraction for our students and staff and it would have cost taxpayers additional dollars that are better devoted to education.”

The district’s insurer has agreed to pay $1.2 million toward legal and settlement costs. The carrier, Graphic Arts Mutual Insurance Company, had questioned in a lawsuit whether costs associated with the webcam suit would be covered under the district’s policy.

Neither Haltzman nor the Robbins family returned calls for comment Monday, reported the Associated Press.

Hassan has since graduated from Lower Merion High School, and a phone number for him could not immediately be determined.

Meris Stansbury

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