In 2014, the United States Supreme Court ruled that the police could not force a person to allow his or her cell phone to be searched unless a warrant was obtained first—even if the person was arrested. Today, however, as technology has continued to advance, school students are more likely than ever to have mobile devices with them in the classroom. If a teacher suspects that a student is violating school rules on his or her phone or tablet, does the teacher have the right to check the student’s device? Connecticut could be about to answer that question as a proposed privacy measure is making its way through the state’s legislature.
The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution protects citizens from unreasonable and improper searches and seizures of personal property. Over the years, case law has clarified what constitutes reasonable and proper searches, but such limitations, in general, only apply to law enforcement agencies and government entities.
In the classroom, teachers are expected to maintain control over the learning environment, and mobile devices can, understandably, distract both educators and students. Currently, school districts are left to develop their own policies regarding mobile device privacy and when administrators can search a student’s phone or tablet. The lack of standardization can be confusing to faculty, students, and parents and can lead to questions about the appropriateness of such a search. According to State Representative Pam Staneski, the author of the proposed law, “This bill looks to standardize these policies.”
Probable Cause and Cell Phone Privacy
The bill, which was recently approved by an overwhelming majority in the House, would allow a teacher or another school employee to take custody of student’s personal mobile device if there is reasonable suspicion that the student has violated the school education policy or poses an immediate risk. The seized device must be immediately turned over to a school administrator. The law would also provide a process by which the administrator would determine if a search is warranted and how to conduct one. Administrators would also be required to document any seizures and searches within a specified timeframe.
The American Civil Liberties Union has announced its support for the proposed law as it seeks to strike a balance between students’ privacy and the need to protect the educational environment. By restricting the authority to conduct a search to administrators only, the law also limits the possible exposure of a student’s private information. The measure would not apply to devices owned by the school.
Fourth Amendment Concerns?
Despite existing laws and court precedents, law enforcement officers and other agencies sometimes overstep their authority. If you have been the victim of an improper search or seizure, contact an experienced Hartford criminal defense attorney for guidance. Call [[phone1]] for a free consultation at Woolf Law Firm, LLC today.