School District Agrees to Protect Student’s Privacy
In response to a letter from the ACLU of Northern California, the Linden Unified School District will not read private text messages stored on students' cell phones unless there is good reason to believe that the search will show that a law or school rule was violated. The District's new policy also limits the scope of the search to the alleged infraction leading to the seizure of a cell phone.
The revised policy stems from an incident involving Justin Tomek, a senior at Linden High School. Justin's cell phone was confiscated by a teacher after he was caught talking on it to his mother on October 25, 2007. Although school officials had no reason to believe that Justin was violating any other school rule, they still accessed and read approximately three-weeks worth of text messages, many of which contained personal communications with others, including messages to and from his mother.
"Students' cell phones are like a diary of their daily lives, including some of their most personal thoughts and feelings expressed in the text messages stored on a cell phone," said ACLU of Northern California staff attorney Ann Brick. "School officials should only be allowed to search a student's cell phone in strict accordance with the law."
On March 3, the ACLU of Northern California wrote to the School District on behalf of Justin Tomek and his family, explaining that the District's policy concerning cell phone searches violated the Fourth Amendment and the California Constitution.
The ACLU asked the District to revise the policy to conform to constitutional requirements and instruct school personnel that no student's cell phone may be searched other than in compliance with the revised policy. The School Board adopted the policy on Wednesday, April 16. See Sacramento Bee article here. See Record article here.
"We applaud the Linden Unified School District for revising its policy to reflect state and federal law," said Nicole Ozer, ACLU of Northern California Technology and Civil Liberties Policy Director. "We hope that other school districts will follow their example in respecting the privacy rights of students."
A copy of the letter the ACLU of Northern California sent school officials is available here.
For more information about ACLU of Northern California youth and student rights work, please visit here.