Monday, November 29, 2010

Virginia AG Weighs In On School Cell Phone Searches

The Virginia Attorney General has provided an opinion to school districts about student cell phone searches. In response to concerns about cyberbullying, school districts have been viewing the content of student cell phones. The Virginia AG concluded that "searches and seizures of students' cellular phones and laptops are permitted when there is a reasonable suspicion that the student is violating the law or the rules of the school." A copy of the opinion is here.

I posted a couple of times before about this issue. See here, for example. I am beginning to think this will become a bigger issue than I originally thought.

The Virginia AG opinion is correct -- as far as it goes. School administrators have substantial authority to enforce school rules and laws on school property. However, the opinion does not address the most important issue – whether school officials can use access based on the investigation of a violation of a school rule to search through the entire contents of a student's cell phone. I think that courts will have a greater reluctance to permit school officials to look at photographs and messages on cell phones unrelated to the original excuse for seizing the cell phone.

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