General Question

gimmedat's avatar

When school officials confiscate a student's phone, should they browse call and text histories?

Asked by gimmedat (3943points) May 16th, 2009 from iPhone
Observing members: 0 Composing members: 0

59 Answers

casheroo's avatar

When a teacher confiscates a students phone?
I honestly don’t see how a teacher has any right to do such a thing, which is why all these “sexting” cases are so confusing to me. I remember in high school, I had my cell phone taken away once or twice, no teacher ever went through it that I knew.

Zaku's avatar

Students can’t be confiscated – wrong word.
Going through a person’s phone and text history seems to me like a horrible invasion of privacy.
Then again, it also seems like a problem that to me that students have phone/text/camera/Internet devices in their classrooms to distract them and get them into mischief in the first place.
If you were asking what the typical procedure is, I am sure it happens that school officials feel entitled to do that or make a habit or rule of it in some schools, but I’m sure not all. Some schools also don’t allow cell phones (yay!).

arturodiaz's avatar

I dont know, but just in case I got my iphone password protected. My mac too. Ive heard schools check for fb accounts. Last weeks some friends of mine were called to a honour and justice meeting with the school board because they uploaded a test called “Which teacher you are?”. They called facebook and they gave them the number just like that. Wheres privacy now? So im also thinking in shutting down my facebook account. School authorities dont seem to respect student’s life outside school.

jbfletcherfan's avatar

I would be hopping mad if they did that to me or my child. They have NO right to go through anything so private. Taking the phone is one thing, but getting into messages is way over the top.

casheroo's avatar

@arturodiaz They gave the school what number? Passwords?!

arturodiaz's avatar

@Zaku I dont think banning cell phones from school is a solution. In middle school, cell phones were banned and everybody brought them. I did and never had a problem, I just had it in silence mode. I think is a matter of education. And if a student is texting, well, is his problem. I know is rude to the teacher, ive been in that position but there is really nothing you can do. And taking the cell phone off will not solve anything.

Vincentt's avatar

@arturodiaz – that’s terrible… Makes you think twice of using Facebook. If I still were in high school, I’d be reconsidering what I put on my account on the social network that’s most popular in the Netherlands…

@Zaku – prohibiting cell phones is stupid. Apart from that I need it to see the time (which could be solved if they’d just hang clocks in the rooms ;-), it really sends out the impression that the school’s lost its authority. Come on, if you just have your phone in your pocket and not using it there’s no problem. A school just needs to have the balls to punish students who are using their phone when they’re not supposed to.

ABoyNamedBoobs03's avatar

seems like an invasion of privacy in every sense. and to run off of @arturodiaz: when I was in highschool I was suspended for 3 weeks because I had a house party when I was a sophmore. it was a big party and everyone knew about it. And since there was alcohol there they suspended me. My mother was absolutely livid. She said what happens out of of school property is her responsibility, the school should have no part of it.

gimmedat's avatar

Many school officials argue that if a student is using a phone during school hours any presumption of privacy is lost. They view it as a safety issue – is a student contacting others to meet at the school and beat someone up, is the student planning a drug transaction on school grounds, etc. It sounds outlandish, but I have firsthand experience of a horrible situation being planned during the school day, via texting. The only way it was prevented was by a teacher confiscating a cell phone, turning it over to an administrator, the administrator browsing texts and notifying local police. I’m talking middle school kids here.

Vincentt's avatar

@gimmedat – yeah and after that of course those kids never beat anyone up. It’s not like they also can’t make these arrangements outside school time. I really think it’s unhealthy to keep in the back of your head that each of your students can be a criminal.

@ABoyNamedBoobs03 – and hell yeah was your mother right.

Russell_D_SpacePoet's avatar

No. That is invasion of privacy.

gimmedat's avatar

@Vincentt – I know that some of my students are criminals. I also know that I teach in an inner-city school where students are at a much higher risk for engaging in dangerous behavior.

Having said that, I did not say I supported looking through students’ cell phones. I also didn’t say that the high-risk behavior was going to be avoided altogether. I simply laid outa rationale that most schools use when the question of student privacy arises.

Vincentt's avatar

Hmm, it’s true that sometimes you just can’t deny that some students are criminals. However, I still don’t think that looking through students’ text messages will solve a lot. They’ll adapt soon enough and delete suspicious messages.

And of course, it’s not a personal attack, I’m merely stating my opinion on the school’s policies ;-)

mattbrowne's avatar

It would be illegal. Police might be able to do it when there’s a criminal investigation.

gimmedat's avatar

@mattbrowne, then school officials across the country break the law multiple times daily. I would be interested to see what legal standard there is for you to assert that this is illegal.

mattbrowne's avatar

@gimmedat – I think in most countries it’s legal to take away the cell phone (most state parliaments in Germany created new laws which allow teachers to do that). But call and text histories are personal data and they are protected by data privacy laws. Teachers have no right to look at it. I’m not a legal expert though. And maybe it’s different in the US.

gimmedat's avatar

I think that schools get around that issue by stating the possibility of staff searching call and text histories if a student is caught using a cell phone and the phone is subsequently taken.

As a teacher I get why school officials do go through student phones. As a parent I would flip my shit if my kid’s phone was gone through.

BookReader's avatar

…WOW…Great Question!

…my thinking is that school boards, administrations, staff, and parents share parental responsibility and accountability to some degree- to what degree and interpretation is a gray fog.

amandaerin1977's avatar

No way!!!!! That is totally an invasion of privacy! I really don’t think that they should be allowed to fake their phones away in the first place. They should be given a warning, and made to put the phone away in a locker or other secure area… Phones are not cheap and should not be taken away!

Darwin's avatar

Since the school serves in loco parentis during the school day, and since the phones are typically confiscated for being used at school, the school does have the need to verify that the phone is not being used at school for illegal or unsafe activities.

Here in our town, students were texting during school to sell drugs on school property. The phones were confiscated because our school has a rule that cell phones must not be used at school – officially they must reside in the student lockers but because of theft problems students typically turn them off and keep them in their back packs. The text and call histories were checked to make sure no illegal activities were being conducted, which of course they were. The phones were then turned over to the district police.

As long as the school tells everyone up front that cell phones are not allowed at school, and that if a phone is confiscated the staff may use discretion as to whether to search call and text histories, there should not be a problem. Our district requires every student and parent to sign an acknowledgment of this at the beginning of every school year. If a phone is confiscated it is returned only to the parent or guardian, not to the minor who was using it.

Besides, cell phones are far from secure and anyone who says or texts private things over a cell phone is a fool.

seekingwolf's avatar

That’s a total invasion of privacy and schools have no right.

I think if there was an issue of possible cheating, then the school can contact the parents and see if they can have permission to look at the phone records (to see if the student was texting during exam time). This is what my college would do if there was an issue.

But it’s totally wrong just to take the phone away and look through it without consent from anyone. I had my phone taken away once (it was at summer camp though) and I knew they would look through it, so I took out the battery, stuck it down my shirt, and then gave up the phone….they were so angry that they couldn’t look through it!

ru2bz46's avatar

Wouldn’t they need a search warrant to look through the phone, or do minors at school lose their rights? I don’t see a problem with temporary confiscation.

essieness's avatar

NO! That is such an infringement on a person’s privacy.

oratio's avatar

Schools and companies where you work should never be allowed to invade the private life of people.

Kids are bad with cells in school though. I wonder if not cell phone jammers installed in every class room would be a good idea?

tinyfaery's avatar

Where my wife teaches, kids can have cell phones, but the phones cannot come out in class, and if they do so, it is confiscated by the teacher. The teacher then gives it to the dean, and then the parents have to come in and talk to the dean in order to retrieve the phone. Nowhere in that procedure does the invasion of privacy need to take place. I’d take issue with a parent looking through a teens phone, as well. Only under serious pretext is it okay to invade someone’s privacy.

eponymoushipster's avatar

i went to a school that would take away your discman/walkman if you brought it to school (it was in a time before 15yr olds had cell phones, or iPods). the same went for pagers.

today, though, i don’t see how anyone would allow this to happen. i can see a school saying they can’t be brought to class, but taking it – much less browsing contents – that’s far past the boundaries of what’s acceptable.

seekingwolf's avatar

Just curious, but do you think it’s ok for a teacher to temporarily take away a cell phone during class, but not look through it?

I think it would be ok if a student was being distriptive with it so the teacher could take it away, place it on the desk, and then give it back to to the student when that class is over? No privacy invasion and lesson learned.

tiffyandthewall's avatar

taking away something that is being used against the rules is acceptable. going through personal items is not.

if there is reason for suspicion of serious illegal activity, then the teacher should contact the police and deal with it as any other suspicious illegal activity would be dealt with.

justwannaknow's avatar

I say that it is no way acceptable for anyone other than (and I will catch grief from everyone under 30) parents to view the contents of a childs phone. Why the parents? They are more than likely paying the bill number 1. Number 2 a good parent should know what their child is up to . three, If the child has nothing to hide, then whats the problem and if they do have something to hide, there is already a problem.

seekingwolf's avatar


I can totally see your point there, but I’m still kind of disagreeing.
Maybe it was just how I was raised but my parents always gave me privacy since I was 5 (if I said a drawing pad or box was PRIVATE they wouldn’t go into it).
Did I do bad things? Well, most of the time no, but I had my share. They would find out (naturally not by snooping) and I turned out ok.

I think giving a child privacy builds trust and confidence. The child feels important and respected with the parents…they’ll see the parents as friends and partners rather than JUST an authority figure who rules their lives. Being too controlling and going through a kid’s phone could really damage the relationship. Give them privacy and tell them it’s a privilege, but if they abuse it, take it away until they rebuild trust.

Vincentt's avatar

@justwannaknow – if I have something to hide from my parents it’s not per definition a problem, just stuff I don’t want them to know about. And they’re not paying the bill either… :P

But more important, I think, is @seekingwolf‘s trust argument. In my relation with my parents, trust is really, really important. (In fact, it’s important in my relation to about anyone.)

walterallenhaxton's avatar

They should not confiscate the phone. That is stealing and people who do that should be put in jail. Banning it is appropriate. Banning those who do not obey the rules on the property is appropriate. Stealing their property is not.
Stealing other peoples information is of course a crime and should be punished in a way that a jury deems appropriate.

walterallenhaxton's avatar

@justwannaknow This question talks about strangers pawing through a persons private business. It is not about concerned parents looking after their kids. It is about voyeurs and people who are looking at a way to harm the child looking. Who knows what they will blab to others that will affect the child also. These acts should be punished not considered as an acceptable thing.

walterallenhaxton's avatar

@Darwin You think it is acceptable that kids be put in jail for long periods of time because of an unconstitutional search of their belongings. There is something very evil about that. These kids are required to go to these schools or the law comes and gets them. There is no control over the school officials. They could easily turn over data that is on the phones from off school activities. If the police get those phones what is to stop them from looking at that information which is included with the rest. There is no end to the evil here.

ru2bz46's avatar

@walterallenhaxton and others, I don’t think that the teachers who confiscate the phones ever keep them. It is only for the time the student is in school. They give the phones back, either to the student at the end of the day, or to the parent. There is no theft. The illegal search is a different matter. Somebody correct me if I am wrong, please.

walterallenhaxton's avatar

@ru2bz46 I am a long time out of school but I have never heard of schools returning property. I don’t know what they are doing. Information that is the students property is not returnable. Once it is out there it is also the property of those who have it. Stolen property.
Schools are a dangerous place. This puts a new danger there. If this is allowed teachers should be required to wear uniforms and badges.

mattbrowne's avatar

@walterallenhaxton – The cell phones are banned already. What should teachers do when students ignore the ban? The laws over here grant teachers the right to confiscate cell phones which are not switched off. The students get them back before they leave the school building to go home. Confiscating is not stealing. My wife’s a teacher. She’s not a thief.

Vincentt's avatar

Now now, we’re not going to imprison everybody who steals something. And of course, confiscating a phone is only temporarily, the phones are handed back to the students after a certain period of time and in certain conditions (i.e. via their parents). And hopefully without the contents having been snooped through.

Darwin's avatar

@walterallenhaxton – I did not say I advocate putting random kids in jail for long amounts of time so please don’t put words in my mouth.

As you say, schools are a dangerous place, and most times it is the students themselves that make it dangerous. Teachers and school personnel are thoroughly vetted and watched and complaints about their actions are taken very seriously. Yet the people typically selling drugs in schools or planning to shoot up the cafeteria are usually students, not teachers.

Add in also the fact that these are minors who have legally been placed in the charge of the school for the duration of the school day (hence the schools are in loco parentis as I said previously) and they not only have a right, they have a duty to make certain their charges are not making unfortunate decisions that could hurt themselves or others.

Quite frankly, if a child is planning to bomb the school, then I certainly hope someone finds out and stops the plan dead in its tracks or other innocent children may suffer. And in fact, such a child has already broken the rules by having a banned object at school and using it, and such a child may not end up in jail, but may end up in counseling or something that the child needs.

On top of that, at least in our district, parents and students are made aware in writing that this is a potential result of bringing a cell phone to school and using it. If students aren’t to learn that rules are rules and should be followed at least until they are changed by the appropriate process, what are they to learn?

Zaku's avatar

@arturodiaz & vincentt – I see your points and think we have similar positions. I overstated my case. So I’d suggest simply having rules of no using phones during class, not prohibiting possession of them. I also think it’s crazy for a classroom not to have a clock for everyone to see – when did that happen?

Vincentt's avatar

@Zaku – well, the clock thing was mainly negligency I suppose. It was fixed just before I left the school (about the only thing the students council accomplished ;-). And yeah, I agree with not using phones during class. Though perhaps to play music if you’re working privately.

@Darwin – I don’t think we should bully ourselves into invading our privacy because of a few incidents with a minimal percentage of all children.

walterallenhaxton's avatar

@Darwin You don’t send people out to be harmed when they break a rule and will not stop unless it involves hurting someone else. You bar them from the property for life. Any bartender will tell you that. What ever the law says they are not parents. They do not have that job. The parents do. It is not something that can be divorced from them. It is part of who they are and part of who the kid is. That can not be changed by law or any other kind of force. If the parents choose to turn their kids in it is solely up to them. The school is just an establishment that the kids go to. If they are evicted for breaking the rules there are plenty more schools for them to go to.

walterallenhaxton's avatar

@mattbrowne Things are different in different places. I am not aware of anyone gettingh their property back in my state. Maybe they do. I heard that they would not concerning other types of property. It could be different for phones. Just keeping a phone for safekeeping when the student knows that he will get it back is not what I was talking about. Of course that is not stealing. It is honest banking.

Darwin's avatar

@walterallenhaxton – It rather depends on the rule, though doesn’t it? Texting your BFF is one thing, selling drugs via your phone or planning a massacre is quite another. And perhaps the Melendez parents should have turned their sons in, but they didn’t. Possibly if someone at school had noticed things the parents would still be around.

BTW, in some towns if you are barred from the public school system you have little recourse other than expensive private schools or the juvenile justice system school.

ru2bz46's avatar

You know, all these arguments in favor of taking a kid’s cell phone for using it at school and feeling justified to browse through messages just in case the kid might be planning some criminal behavior sound a lot like the arguments for wire tapping suspected terrorists that the Bush administration conducted. I’m just sayin’ (and yes, that was a long sentence).

Darwin's avatar

Frequently school personnel have a very good idea of whose messages should be checked and whose are inconsequential to anyone but themselves.

ru2bz46's avatar

That was the same type of argument the President used.

Zaku's avatar

As much as I want schools to be safe from violence, and even though I kind of dislike cell phones as a cultural phenomenon, I think that privacy is a vital human value, and spying is a wicked vice that school authorities and parents should not stoop to. Reading text logs and call histories is an invasion of privacy, a denial of a basic human right or at least a basic human yearning for private space, and it begets and deserves disrespect, distance, resentment and enmity. It’s not the way to foster positive loving cooperative adults. And kids are smart and will employ countermeasures. Treating students like suspects who may be up to vice, crime, and outrageous violence, will create some of them as such, who would not otherwise go there.

SilverFang77's avatar

@Zaku , you’re absolutely right. I know I would have been a better student if the school people had just treated me like a human being deserving of respect instead of like an overgrown child, or a criminal in training.

As for cell phones, students have the right to have them as long as they’re not disruptive.

walterallenhaxton's avatar

@Darwin There is a big difference between drugs and violence. Drugs are a private matter but violence is a public one. I know that they are not treated that way now but they have been in the past. Violence has always been a public matter. It is a big world and if you can’t afford to send your misbehaving kids to school you can move to a place where you can. They might very well get thrown out there. Remember. These kids are making their own lives and are the ones responsible for their problems.

Darwin's avatar

@walterallenhaxton – Drugs are not a private matter. Drug dealing is illegal. Drug dealing on campus is doubly so. A school seen to be “permitting” drug dealing on campus and thus exposing “innocent” children to readily available illegal substances can be sued for negligence and would probably lose.

Students in most public schools in the United States are minors. As such, their guardians are liable for their behavior. Because students by law must attend school, the school personnel serve as temporary guardians for those minor students, and thus must do what they deem necessary to protect the student body as a whole. Because these students are legally classified as minors they are assumed to not have adult judgment, so then an adult with good reason to be suspicious may step in and take a look at what the student has been doing.

And yes, these kids are making their own lives and are the ones responsible for their problems. However, they are told both orally and in writing at the beginning of each school year that cell phones brought to school will be confiscated if they are not kept securely locked up in lockers during the school day. The students know that they aren’t supposed to use cell phones at school. They choose to break the rule, so that means they choose to have their phones confiscated.

Having your phone confiscated and your text messages read is a small penalty for breaking the law. In the real world outside of school there are many rules and laws you need to follow. If you choose not to follow the law, you can be arrested, ticketed, fined, or even sometimes shot or tasered. If you were always allowed to break the rules with impunity at school, what reason would you have had to learn to follow the laws outside of school? The answer is none.

What it comes down to is that students do not have a “right” to bring cell phones to school or to use them on school property or during class. Having a cell phone is a privilege, and it is one not available at school. The sooner students learn the real difference between a right and a privilege, the better off our society will be. Thus, if students are told that bringing a cell phone to school will result in it being confiscated and examined but they persist in bringing and using their phones, then their phones can and should be confiscated and examined.

walterallenhaxton's avatar

The drug thing is not a school rule. I know that they are illegal and can not be used on school grounds and the school has a right to stop them there. It is not a law enforcement body for all of society and so has no jurisdiction over what people do outside of it. The kids are forced to be there. Taking their information by force and giving it to law enforcement is an illegal search and seizure. That is illegal or at least would be if we still had laws that applied to government in this country.
They are not breaking the law. They are breaking a school rule. My argument about drugs is a simple one. They are illegal and the government does stick it’s nose into that part of peoples lives. There are very many places where it does so. That does not make it any of its business to do so. It only does so because it wants to and has the power to do so. Not because it has the right or need to do so. It could legalize drugs if it wanted to and society would carry on.
Violence and property crimes are different. They have to be dealt with by society. It currently lets government do that. If there were no government then society would deal with such things in a different way. In either case action would be taken.
Not so drugs and many other religiously inspired laws. Who needs that law in Mississippi against how baggy a persons pants are?

Darwin's avatar

@walterallenhaxton – I don’t know where you live, but illegal drugs are illegal here, no matter whose property you are on, including on school property.

It is not a school rule that one can’t buy, sell, possess or use illegal drugs on school property. It is a state and federal law.

And if the schools did not enforce drug laws on school property (which, BTW, is state property, not private) you can bet they would be sued by every parent whose little darling came into contact with drugs at school and became a user.

And finally, illegal drug use frequently leads to both violent crime and property crime, because drugs impair judgment and they are expensive. In order to reduce crime, illegal drugs and inappropriate use of legal drugs needs to be curtailed.

And since when is it wrong to carry through with a promise? The school says “Don’t do that here or there will be consequences.” The student does it anyway. The school imposes the consequences.

So are you a Libertarian or just a plain old garden variety anarchist? Or perhaps you are a student who got in trouble for either using drugs or a cell phone at school?

walterallenhaxton's avatar

@Darwin If we wanted to reduce the stealing we would be doing our best to make sure that the drugs are as cheap as the market will allow. We would not be going around and turning our children into criminals for life. We are making more crime that way.

This question is about the state breaking a law that it is required to follow.

It is my argument that probable cause does not exist for them to search the phones and therefore it is illegal for them to do so.
“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

Darwin's avatar

@walterallenhaxton – Drugs still impair judgment and so, legal or not, crime increases where they are in use. It is the same with alcohol. People do stupid, dangerous and illegal stuff when their judgment is impaired.

And how is a school telling students not to bring their phones to school or they will be confiscated breaking any laws about search and seizure? The students have been warned. If they choose to ignore the warning, they have to accept the consequences. It isn’t as if schools are patting all the kids down and removing all phones they find. School staff wait until a kid proves they have broken the rule by using the phone at school and then they confiscate it, as they warned the kids that they would.

I think you fail to understand the difference between “right” and “privilege,” and the difference between invading someone’s privacy and imposing consequences.

And I ask again: So are you a Libertarian or just a plain old garden variety anarchist? Or perhaps you are a student who got in trouble for either using drugs or a cell phone at school?

walterallenhaxton's avatar

@Darwin And you don’t understand the question or my objection. I am not against the teachers quarantining the distraction until the end of class or the principal for the entire day. It is the Government breaking the law. You can legally neutralize the distraction but you can’t legally

“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects,”

break this rule either or you are exactly as guilty of breaking rules.
Putting the law aside for a moment. You are an educator and a big part of teaching is by example. If you break the rules the kids will tend to copy that behavior in you. If you are very strict at obeying the rules yourself the kids will tend to copy you.
Searching stuff is for the police or parents to do. Not educators.
As for me. I am not any thing more that a man fighting for truth, justice and freedom for all. Those who would take that away are anti life and must be opposed.

Darwin's avatar

You sound as if you think you are some sort of superhero. However, you also sound like someone who has never parented teenagers or seen the damage one teen can wreak on an entire school.

Good luck with that.

SilverFang77's avatar

Maybe it’s time to do away with the entire concept of “minor”, “age of majority”, “in loco parentis” and all the other dehumanizing BS that’s been foisted on young people for the past 50 years. Treat them like competent human beings instead of liabilities and you might be surprised at how they rise to the occasion.

captain's avatar

i think that if a child was allowed to bring their phone they wouldnt get in trouble with it in the first place. and if your just putting it in your purse it shouldnt be a problem unless your caught using it

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