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    ACLU: Students have a right to privacy in their cell phones

    The ACLU of California has released a new report, “Hello! Students have a right to privacy in their cell phones” (pdf), concerning the privacy rights of students in California schools. From the introduction:

    Indiscriminate searches of students’ cell phones threaten students’ privacy rights in ways that have never before been possible. Sweeping searches threaten to expose a tremendous amount of private, personal information, especially given modern smart phones and their e-mail, Internet, calendaring, messaging, photo and video capabilities. Perhaps worst of all, sweeping searches threaten to teach our youth that such invasions of privacy are unavoidable, or worse, routine parts of civic life.

    The U.S. Supreme Court laid down the standards for searches of students and their belongings in New Jersey v. T.L.O. The Court, which sought to balance the privacy rights of students against the need for safety and order in schools, established a two-part test for any such searches. Essentially, a search must be justified from the outset and limited in its scope to finding evidence related to the alleged violation of school rules or illegal conduct that justified the search in the first place. Having received several complaints of unjustified cell phone searches, and knowing of various lawsuits across the country challenging such searches, we decided to investigate the standards for searches of student cell phones on public school campuses in California. This report examines both cell phone possession and search and seizure policies in California school districts. […]

    Part I of this report provides background information on student cell phone use and examines the privacy concerns that arise from searches of student cell phones. Part II surveys current school district policies regarding the possession and use of cell phones by students, assesses the current legal limits on searches of student cell phones, and examines the policies of surveyed districts5 in light of the legal limits. Part III recommends the components of model cell phone possession and search and seizure policies. The Appendix to this report includes a quiz to test your knowledge of search and seizure principles as applied to students’ cell phones.

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