HELLO! Students Have a Right to Privacy in Their Cell Phones

Indiscriminate Cell Phone Searches Violate Students' Privacy Rights
Read the report.
The ACLU of California's new report on cell phone privacy shows that most California school districts are failing to provide students, teachers and staff with clear policies that balance students' legal right to privacy with the need for safety and order.
Contact your school administrators to make sure they're respecting your student's rights. Schools should create cell phone policies that explicitly prohibit unreasonable cell phone searches that require searches of student property to be limited to investigating only the alleged violation.

Model School Cell Phone Policy

The following represents a model cell phone policy for adoption by school districts based on our assessment of the current state of the law, our balance of the competing interests, and the most practical, economical, and effective method for ensuring that searches of cell phones are limited in scope to what is lawful:
  • Students may possess or use personal electronic signaling devices on school campus provided that such devices do not disrupt the educational program or school activity and are not used for illegal or unethical activities such as cheating on assignments or tests.
  • Electronic signaling devices shall be turned off and kept out of sight during class time or at any other time as directed by a school district employee, except where deemed medically necessary or when otherwise permitted by the teacher or administration. No student shall be prevented from using his/her cell phone in case of an emergency, except where that use inhibits the ability of school district employees to effectively communicate instructions for the safety of students.
  • Violations of this policy shall be subject to progressive discipline. If a student’s use of an electronic signaling device causes a disruption, a school district employee on the first offense may direct the student to turn off the device or reprimand the student. On subsequent offenses, the employee may confiscate the device and return it to the student at the end of the class period, school day or activity. A student’s right to carry such devices may be revoked for subsequent offenses except where deemed medically necessary. Students may be subject to other disciplinary measures when their use of an electronic signaling device violates independent school rules, such as prohibitions on cheating.
  • Notwithstanding any other school policies on searches in general,absent reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing with the device beyond merely possessing it or having it turned on or out in the open, school district employees may not search any personal telecommunication device without the express authorized consent of the student and the student’s parent or legal guardian.
  • No student shall use an electronic signaling device with camera, video or voice recording function in a way or under circumstances which infringe the privacy rights of other students.
  • Confiscated electronic signaling devices shall be stored by school district employees in a secure manner.
  • Students are responsible for personal electronic signaling devices they bring to school. The district shall not be responsible for loss, theft or destruction of any such device brought onto school property, except that it shall be the responsibility of the school to ensure the safekeeping of any confiscated devices.
  • Students and their parents shall be notified of the above policy at the beginning of every school year.

Take the Quiz!

Test your knowledge of the constitutional limitations on search and seizure. Are the searches of the student’s cell phone legal or illegal?
1) A student is suspected of text messaging in class in violation of school rules. The teacher confiscates the phone and reads the last ten texts sent by the student over the last several days.


2) A teacher receives a tip that students have been circulating nude photos of a classmate. The teacher was told the names of two particular students who sent the photos, but has a hunch that one of the students’ friends also has them on his phone. The teacher confiscates the friend’s phone and reviews the stored pictures for the nude photos.


3)  A group of students is standing around talking in hushed voices. One of the students has her cell phone out.  When the principal approaches, the student calmly closes her phone and places it behind her back. The principal instructs the student to surrender her phone to which the student objects as a violation of her right to privacy. When the principal orders the student to turn over the phone again, the student complies and the principal reviews the student’s text messages.


4) A student is caught in the hallway without a pass while talking on his cell phone. The school security guard stops the student and reviews the student’s call log to determine with whom he was speaking.


ANSWER: NONE of the scenarios listed are legal.