School District Settles Webcam Spying Litigation

The Lower Merion School District settles litigation regarding accusations it used Webcams on school-issued laptops to take pictures of students.

A Pennsylvania school district has agreed to a $610,000 settlement in a controversial legal battle over its use of Webcam technology on school-issued laptops.

The Lower Merion School District confessed to taking thousands of Webcam photos and screenshots from school-issued laptops. The district contended the technology was meant to find missing computers. However in February, the parents of Harriton High School student Blake Robbins, then 15, accused the district of using it to spy on him inside his home.

The settlement calls for $175,000 to be placed in a trust for Robbins, while a second student who sued, Jalil Hassan, will get $10,000. In addition, the students' attorney, Mark Haltzman, will get $425,000 in legal fees-bringing the district's tab to $610,000.

In August, the FBI declined to bring any charges in the case, ending several months of investigation.

"A major impetus behind settling this matter now is the recent agreement by our insurance carrier, Graphic Arts, to cover more than $1.2M of the fees and costs associated with this litigation to date," Lower Merion School Board President David Ebby said in a statement.

"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," he said. "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. We also wanted to be sensitive to the welfare of the student involved in the case, given the possible ramifications of what would have been a highly-publicized trial."

According to the suit, the district gave high school students computers as part of a technology initiative, but did not notify families that the laptops were equipped with Webcams that could be turned on remotely. The Robbins family alleged they did not learn of the capability until school officials accused their son Blake of "improper behavior in his home" and cited a photograph from the Webcam embedded in the laptop as evidence.

The district is no longer using the tracking technology.