| Monday December 22nd 2014

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PA school board pays $33K settlement for searching kid’s phone and referring seminude self-portraits to DA for criminal prosecution


iPhone hottiePennsylvania’s Tunkhannock Area School District has settled a lawsuit brought by the ACLU on behalf of NN, a student whose mobile phone was searched by her principal. The principal dug through several screens’ worth of menus to discover some partial nude photos of NN, as well as a blurry full nude that NN had intended for her long-term boyfriend. This may or may not have been advisable, but I’m with NN and the ACLU: it wasn’t the principal’s place to go digging through her phone for the pix. And the principal certainly shouldn’t have done what he did next: turn the photos over to the DA’s office for criminal prosecution (you see, the principal believed that in taking pictures of herself, a minor, NN became a child pornographer).


The school district settled for $33K (which sounds like the ACLU’s legal fees), and another suit against the DA remains ongoing. As a result of the settlement, the Pennsylvania School Boards Association is developing guidelines for searching students’ phones.

The ACLU-PA hoped to use this case to help alert school officials across Pennsylvania to students’ privacy rights in their cell phones. Very little case law exists discussing student-cell-phone searches. While the settlement forecloses a court ruling, the case has led the ACLU-PA to contact the Pennsylvania School Boards Association (PSBA), which this week agreed to work with the ACLU towards crafting guidelines for teachers and school officials to help them better handle situations involving student cell phones and other electronic devices without unlawfully invading student privacy. Walczak noted that the goal was to prevent future violations of students’ constitutional rights.

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