2nd Lower Merion student sues over 'spycam'

Mark Haltzman, the Hasans' attorney, speaks at news conference.
Mark Haltzman, the Hasans' attorney, speaks at news conference.
Posted: July 28, 2010

There's a difference between reading about the Lower Merion School District's "Webcamgate" scandal and discovering that you're a part of it.

Just ask Jalil Hasan, a college-bound Lower Merion High graduate who said that he found out this month that his school-issued laptop had been secretly recording his online activity and snapping pictures of him and his family inside their Ardmore home.

For nearly two months straight.

"When I saw those pictures, it really freaked me out," the 18-year-old aspiring restaurateur said.

Yesterday, Hasan filed an invasion-of-privacy lawsuit against the wealthy Montgomery County district, which is still reeling from a February lawsuit that exposed the controversial "TheftTrack" software installed on the Apple MacBooks issued to 2,300 high school students.

According to the lawsuit, the webcam on Hasan's laptop took at least 469 photos between Dec. 21, 2009, and Feb. 18, 2010, the date that Harriton High sophomore Blake Robbins and his family filed the first lawsuit.

Another 543 screen shots from his computer were stored on district servers.

The TheftTrack program, which is no longer in use, was supposed to have been activated only when a laptop was reported lost or stolen, district officials have said.

But Hasan's computer was neither, according to his mother, Fatima.

She said that he accidentally left it in his cooking class on Friday, Dec. 18, 2009, and retrieved it from the technology department when he returned to school the following Monday.

In Robbins' case, the remote surveillance was activated - and left running for two weeks - even though school officials knew it was at his home, according to a report that the district's lawyer released in May.

"I really didn't know the extent of it until I saw them for myself," Fatima Hasan said of the photos and screen shots from her son's laptop.

"Pictures of him at home in his bedroom, pictures of family, pictures of friends."

Like many families in the district, Fatima Hasan said that she moved there for the schools, which are among the best in the state. They had lived in Philadelphia.

"I sent Jalil to Lower Merion High with the idea that he would be in a safe environment, and that's what you care about most as a parent," she said.

"But then, when I'm looking at these pictures and I'm looking at these snapshots, I'm feeling like, 'Where did I send my child?' "

The Hasans are represented by attorney Mark Haltzman, who is also handling the Robbinses' case.

Haltzman filed a court motion Monday requesting that the district pay $419,000 in plaintiffs' legal fees from the first suit, which is still unresolved. His motion further infuriated a large contingent of high-school parents opposed to the lawsuit.

It is unclear why the tracking software on Jalil Hasan's laptop was activated. Superintendent Christopher McGinley said in a statement yesterday that "there is no evidence that any students were intentionally targeted" and that "continued litigation is clearly not the right way to proceed and not in the best interest of the students or the school district community."

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