The American Civil Liberties Union has objected to a proposed new policy in a Washington state school system that would let school officials seize students’ cell phones if they have probable cause, reports the Seattle Times. Bullying has taken a technological turn, and officials at Oak Harbor School District are looking for ways to control it. Under a proposed new policy, that might mean seizing students’ phones with probable cause. But do schools have that right? The ACLU of Washington says no. “One shouldn’t have to give up the right to privacy to have the other right of public education,” said Brian Alseth, director of the group’s Technology and Liberty project, which aims to protect technological rights and prevent governmental abuse. The organization objected to the proposed policy in a letter to the district superintendent; it has offered proposed changes, too. The School Board discussed the policy at its Aug. 30 meeting. Superintendent Rick Schulte said the district wouldn’t implement it until at least Sept. 13. He said the board will take that time to consider advice such as the ACLU’s. The proposed policy would fulfill a state requirement that bullying policies be updated by 2011, he said. Alseth said his main concern is that school officials would have “unfettered access” to students’ phones. If principals were searching a phone for harassing messages, they might, for example, learn about a pregnancy or a student’s politics—information that should be private. But Schulte said that although the policy would allow district officials to seize cell phones without permission, they’d avoid doing so……Read More
In the first federal appeals court opinion dealing with “sexting”—the transmission of sexually explicit photographs by cell phone—a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit ruled March 17 that parents could block the prosecution of their children on child pornography charges for appearing in photographs found on some classmates’ phones, reports the New York Times. “It does not resolve all of the constitutional issues implicated in sexting prosecutions, but it’s a terrific start for civil liberties,” said Witold Walczak, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, who represented the parents. The case, Miller v. Mitchell, began in 2008 when school officials in Tunkhannock, Pa., discovered seminude and nude photographs of some female students on other students’ cell phones. The officials confiscated the phones and turned them over to the county district attorney’s office. The district attorney at the time, George Skumanick Jr., said that students possessing “inappropriate images of minors” could be prosecuted for possession or distribution of child pornography, and he sent letters to the parents of the students with the phones—and the parents of students who appeared in the photographs—threatening to prosecute any student who did not participate in an after-school “education program.” Three families whose daughters were in the photographs refused to participate and instead filed suit to block the charges……Read More
A suburban Philadelphia school district used the webcams in school-issued laptop computers to spy on students at home, potentially catching them and their families in compromising situations, a family claims in a federal lawsuit.
Lower Merion School District officials would not comment on the accusation, but angry students already have responded by putting tape on their laptop cameras and microphones.
Sophomore Tom Halperin described students as “pretty disgusted” and noted that his class recently read 1984, the George Orwell classic that coined the term “Big Brother.”…Read More