Tuesday, August 30, 2016
Mark McAllister (Indiana Tech) has posted an article on SSRN exploring regulating student cell phone searches through an administrative warrant process. The abstract is below.
Rethinking Student Cell Phone Searches by Mark Chase McAllister (Penn State Law Review, 2016)
For K-12 students, this article advocates a middle-ground solution that accounts for the unique privacy interests that apply to all cell phones while preserving the need to control the K-12 learning environment without undue judicial supervision. This article thus proposes that K-12 schools adopt an internal system of checks and balances consisting of a higher-level, independent review of a school official’s desire to search a student cell phone, along with an administrative warrant the supervising official must sign before the search may be carried out.
After weighing the pros and cons of extending Riley to the schoolhouse gates, this article arrives at the simple conclusion that, despite its narrow holding, Riley’s sweeping pronouncements regarding the unique privacy concerns inherent in the modern cell phone demand a rethinking of the law governing student cell phone searches. Riley stated, for example, that the privacy protections owed modern cell phones are even greater than what we enjoy in our homes, the area that has traditionally received the greatest Fourth Amendment protection, thereby implying that cell phone searches, of any kind and in any place, are owed the greatest possible constitutional protection. In addition, although Riley involved searches of arrestees, who have traditionally enjoyed diminished privacy interests, the Court nevertheless found the privacy-related concerns in cell phones weighty enough to require a warrant, notwithstanding arrestees’ reduced expectations of privacy. This exact rationale can be applied to K-12 and college students, who, like arrestees, have also enjoyed reduced Fourth Amendment protections.
This article concludes by proposing heightened Fourth Amendment protections for both K-12 and college cell phone searches. First, this article argues that although college students enjoy reduced expectations of privacy in certain instances, particularly for administrative inspections where campus safety concerns predominate, the justifications for such rulings do not apply to a cell phone’s digital contents.