Scanning students’ rooms during remote testing unconstitutional, judge rules

“Mr. Ogletree’s privacy interest in his home outweighs Cleveland State’s interest in scanning his room. Accordingly, the Court determines that Cleveland State’s room scanning practice is unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment,” Judge Calabrese concluded.

Since 2020, COVID-19 restrictions have forced students to take exams remotely, so universities have come to rely on browser plug-ins and other software from third-party proctoring companies to prevent exam cheating.

Civil rights attorney Matthew Besser, who represented Ogletree, described the decision as a landmark case in a post on his firm’s blog: “This case appears to be the first in the country to hold that the Fourth Amendment protects students from unreasonable video searches of their. Taking a remote test. home first.”

Privacy advocates applauded the ruling

Digital privacy advocates have raised red flags about alleged civil liberties violations by online proctoring services in recent years.

In December 2020, the Electronic Privacy Information Center filed complaints against five popular proctoring services, including Honorlock, for their “invasive” and “deceptive” data collection practices. Fight for the Future, a nonprofit that created the website, called the decision a “huge victory.”

The opinion document states that Ohio University is not aware of any data breaches related to remote exam recordings and that access to the video is strictly controlled. Cleveland State University has not yet responded to NPR’s request for comment.

The definition of a “search” is questionable

The university contested that the remote virtual room scans constituted “searches.” It argued that the scan was a regulatory process unrelated to crime, aimed at the integrity of the test.

The scan of Ogletree’s room lasted no more than a minute and 10 seconds. According to court documents, the defense argued that the scan was “brief, revealing only items in plain view and that the student controlled the inspection to the extent that the student chose where in the room to be examined and where to operate the camera.”

The plaintiff was free to object to the scan, the defense added. A student who refused to take the test could still take the test, the school argued, even if opting out meant receiving no credit for the test.

The judge disagreed.

“Room scans go where people might not otherwise, at least not without a warrant or invitation. Nor does it follow that room scans are not searches because the technology is ‘in general public use,'” Judge Calabrese said.

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