From ACLU’s blog:
…. it’s an unfortunate fact that many school districts wrongly believe that if a student is in trouble for a minor offense, they have the right to conduct a fishing expedition in order to find evidence of other wrongdoing. Regardless of whether or not a student is permitted to have a phone on campus, if the Fourth Amendment is to have any meaning, the contents of that phone cannot be searched without reasonable, individualized suspicion that the search of the student’s phone will lead to evidence of wrongdoing with the phone. This usually means that a warrant is required before the government can search our private information. At school, school administrators are required to have a reason for the search, prior to invading a student’s privacy.
The ACLU is fighting two school districts to ensure that students do not give up their privacy rights at school. In DeSoto County Mississippi, the ACLU filed a lawsuit representing a former honor student who looked at a text message during football class. Cell phones were prohibited at his school, and because of this minor infraction, the student’s phone was confiscated and thoroughly searched. Nongraphic pictures on his phone taken outside of school were found, and he was subsequently expelled for pictures of him dancing because the school believed the pictures were of him making gang signs. While the school’s policy calls for the confiscation of phones used during schools hours, parents and students were not told that the entire contents of confiscated phones would be searched, including every photo and a wealth of other personal information.
In the same vein, the Oak Harbor school district in Washington state recently proposed a policy allowing the search of the contents of a student’s cell phone for evidence of sexting or “cyberbullying.” The policy states that “by bringing a cell phone and other electronic devices to school or school sponsored events, the student and parents consent to the search of the device when school officials have a reasonable suspicion that such a search will reveal a violation of school rules.” The school district believes that their “bullying” problem is important, and cell phones, like school lockers, are subject to search at school. The ACLU of Washington sent a letter to the Oak Harbor school district (PDF) advising it that this search policy may violate students’ privacy rights, and advised it to change the policy to one that respects students’ privacy rights while still addressing concerns about sexting and cyberbullying.
Read more on ACLU’s site.