Bill to demote students’ digital privacy

April 28, 2017 — by Leena Elzeiny

Sophomore's opinion on recent legislation against student digital privacy. 

In the Internet Age, almost everything is accessible to others: our age, our school, our pets’ names. Everything is there, tangled in a sticky web of data.

If this reality wasn’t bad enough,  California students were threatened with further erosions in privacy because of an overzealous group of politicians who seem bent on eliminating the Fourth Amendment protections for those under 18.

California Assembly Bill 165 would have allowed authorized school officials to search students’ possessions, including cell phones, as well as search social media accounts, but an outcry by the public and lobbyists forced it to be pulled from the Assembly agenda on April 17, a day before its consideration.

Despite the tabling of this bill, invasive policies like these will no doubt pop up again.

Those who promote this bill have valid concerns, because they believe that officials at schools must act in loco parentis, or in the place of parents. This idea was first established in 1996 during the court case of Garcia v. City of New York, in which a 5-year-old boy was permitted to go to the bathroom alone and was assaulted by another student.

The jury decided that the teacher had committed an error because she was the official guardian of the boy during school hours and therefore held the responsibility of his safety.

Similarly, many argue that the ability to search cell phones at will is an in loco parentis necessity because searches are vital to properly discipline students, especially cyberbullies.

Cyberbullying has been a rising concern, since according to one study by RawHide almost nine in 10 adolescents have experienced or seen cyberbullying, yet only 20 percent of adolescents report it.

Incidents like what happened to Audrie Pott at this school in 2012 show the necessity of administrators being proactive in stopping cyberbullying.

However, access to students’ private property and accounts already exists, but school officials needs to show probable cause and get a warrant. Assembly Bill 165 simply would have removed these safeguards.

Warrants were originally created so that police officers would have to prove they have probable cause to search a person, keeping invasive and needless examinations to a minimum.

Besides these issues, bills like 165 would increase racial profiling in schools, especially due to the tendency of officials such as police to disproportionately search African Americans and Hispanics.

According to the Center for American Progress, African Americans and Hispanic students make up 70 percent of school related arrests. It is unreasonable to believe that these minorities commit 70 percent of school-related crimes, considering only 21.7 percent of U.S. students are Hispanic or African American.

Minorities make up a disproportionately large proportion of school-related arrests largely because they are disproportionately searched and convicted due to racial biases.

Warrants are meant to bar these kinds of instinctual assumptions, and without warrants, citizens are at will of a police officer’s impulse. It is obviously not the most efficient  method because the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Court states that nearly 75 percent of warrants are approved without changes, but warrants are one the few securities set into place.

While it is true that cell phones can expose students’ engagement in cyberbullying, there is no reason to dodge the scrutiny that a warrant places on officials.

If police officers or school administrators are worried about the time it takes to receive a warrant, they can confiscate the phone first or even just the battery, and then wait for a valid warrant.

Those who dislike the speed of the current system should seek ways to fund more warrant officers to approve warrants. The system of warrants is a core protection that was established for a good reason, and measures that seek to undermine them will only lead to more racism and less privacy for young people.

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