Tuesday, May 04, 2004

Does a high school student have a right to privacy in the digital contents of his cell phone?

Seems pretty straight forward. Of course the principle couldn't take a student's phone, listen to his voice mail, read his text messages, and then send texts and call people in his address book...right? And certainly not if the search was justified on the grounds that the student was caught in the act of recieving a text message reading, "I need a tampon." Well yes, this actually happened. Check it out:

School officials say it is common knowledge that tampon is slang for a large marijuana cigarette.

Wow...I didn't know that. Somehow, it just doesn't sound genuine. Perhaps a little post hoc rationalization? I can't imagine someone saying, as Engadget puts it: "I’m gonna go smoke up a phat tampon right now."

Seriously, students in a public school get less Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizure than a person on the street. Still, this seems like a step well over the line into a violation of privacy. This was no real indication that the student was involved in drugs and the phone was his property (unlike a locker, for which the standard for searching would probably be much lower). The principal even text messeged the student's 10 year old brother pretending to be the student! Calls also went out to other students at the school from the confiscated cell phone, students who answered were told to bring their phones to the principal too. This sounds like a good time to sue, sue, sue!!!

Via Engadget, article here.

While on the subject of privacy. Here is an article in Wired re giving up your info (or really just allowing its aggregation into a dossier) for the greater protection of the US. It also mentions an ID card containing biometric info. The article mainly profiles Derek Smith, head of ChoicePoint:

Smith can supply...information -- he heads ChoicePoint, a leading electronic data warehouse regularly mined by companies and the government. ChoicePoint does 8 million background checks a year, serving more than half of the Fortune 500. Database aggregators like ChoicePoint have quietly become powerful arbiters, whirring in the background when people seek jobs, get on airplanes, apply for insurance, commit a crime or fall victim to one. ChoicePoint's computers are packed with 19 billion public records.

As you can imagine he is in favor of "making the world safer" by "examining each other's digital footprints." Scary? I don't even know anymore.


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