Can a School Legally Search a Student’s Cell Phone?

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Hartford criminal law attorney for student cell phone searchesNearly everyone in the United States uses a cell phone on a daily basis, and these devices contain a great deal of personal information. This is especially true for young people, who are always finding new uses for technology. While most people have some expectations of privacy when using electronic devices, there are situations where a phone may be subject to a search by school officials or law enforcement. Students will want to understand their rights regarding cell phones, since information uncovered during a search could lead to serious penalties, up to and including criminal charges.

Use of Phone Decryption Technology by Schools

Students will often use their phones to send text messages and emails, take and share photos and videos, browse the internet, and communicate with others using social media. All of these activities can involve intimate details of a person’s life that they will want to keep private. If teachers or administrators suspect that a student has violated a school’s policies or committed unlawful acts, they may ask a student to unlock their phone and submit to a search. In some cases, schools may tell students that school policies require them to unlock their phones when requested, or they may impose penalties if students refuse to comply.

In a troubling trend, some schools have begun using technology to hack into students’ phones. Several school districts throughout the United States have purchased mobile device forensic tools that can be used to bypass passcodes and access information stored on cell phones. This technology is often used by the FBI and other law enforcement organizations to investigate terrorism or other serious crimes, and when it is used by school officials, it may result in improper access to a student’s private information.

People in the United States are protected from unreasonable searches by the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, and a search warrant is usually required before a search can be performed that accesses a person’s property or information. However, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that in cases involving students, a search warrant is not necessarily required, as long as school officials have reason to believe that a student has violated laws or school policies. These searches should not be overly intrusive, and they should be related to the violations that a student allegedly committed.

Since searches of a student’s cell phone can be very intrusive, and officials may access personal information that is unrelated to an alleged violation, privacy advocates are concerned about the increasingly widespread use of phone-hacking technology. In 2017, the Connecticut legislature considered a bill that would have placed restrictions on the types of searches that schools could perform, while providing protocols for searches to protect students’ personal information. However, this bill did not pass, and Connecticut does not currently have a statewide policy regarding these types of searches.

Contact a Connecticut Criminal Defense Lawyer

When schools perform searches of students’ cell phones, the information uncovered could not only lead to administrative penalties, but it could play a role in criminal cases, including those involving drug charges, theft, or allegations of sex crimes against children by teachers or administrators. If you are facing criminal charges involving data obtained through a cell phone search, the attorneys of Woolf Law Firm, LLC can help determine whether this evidence was obtained illegally, and we will help you determine the best strategy for defense. Contact our Hartford criminal defense attorneys today by calling 860-290-8690 to set up a free consultation.

Sources:

https://gizmodo.com/u-s-schools-are-buying-phone-hacking-tech-that-the-fbi-1845862393

https://www.nbcconnecticut.com/news/local/bill-address-when-its-appropriate-to-seize-search-students-devices/30551/

https://www.aclunc.org/our-work/know-your-rights/know-your-rights-student-cell-phone-privacy

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