Students and smartphones: security versus privacy

At schools all over the world, smartphones belonging to students are confiscated every day. A confiscation could now lead to more trouble as information on the phone can be accessed by law enforcement without warrant in countries like Canada and in schools everywhere.

Phones aren’t just used to send text messages and call friends. Smartphone users today probably spend more time sharing content on social media than they do calling friends. But what if you share something without thinking twice? New laws in Canada make unwarranted cellphone searches upon arrest legal. But Canada isn’t the only country where students can have their phones searched.

In contrast to the law in Canada, California has made it so that all smartphones in the state have a mandated “killswitch.” This killswitch would allow the owner of the phone to immediately turn off and wipe stored data in case the phone is lost or stolen.

Senior Brandon Sommer said, “A killswitch scares me more than it gives me a sense of security. There are a lot of people out there with malicious intent, and lots of skill with computers. A killswitch could become an exploit.”

If a phone is password protected, the police will still require a warrant unless the said password has been forgotten by the owner.

As technology becomes more advanced, so must our laws regarding technology. While Canada is the first country to legalize no-warrant cellphone searches, more rulings regarding devices like smartphones will inevitably be made.

As students, minors, and residents of Singapore, news of this ruling should not be very alarming. However, it is a case that serves as a grave reminder as to how much information students should be carrying around on a device that can be easily lost.

Senior Jake Carr said, “This is an American school and the fourth amendment to the constitution prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures and requires any warrant to be judicially sanctioned. To put it in laymans’ terms, it’s a violation of privacy.”

But according to the Digital Citizenship Agreement that all high school students signed, phones can be searched. The agreement states that “inappropriate use” such as plagiarism, hate mail, cyberbullying, chain letters, and hacking are all major violations of school policy. All of these violations can be done on a phone. Violations of the Digital Citizenship Agreement can lead to out-of-school suspension or expulsion. In recent years, students at SAS that were suspected of having shared private photos, inappropriate videos, and other sensitive content online had their phones searched.

Students becoming more addicted to smartphones. Photo by Esther Vargas under Creative Commons License.
Students becoming more addicted to smartphones. Photo by Esther Vargas under Creative Commons License.

Deputy principal Mr. Neihart confirmed that as long as the high school office has reasonable suspicion to search a student’s digital property, they have the right to search without consent. Reasonable suspicion can be warranted with reports from credible sources. The evidence does not have to be tangible.

The high school student handbook states that students should refrain from taking photos and recording videos of inappropriate activity, as these activities are considered cyberbullying and may result from consequences from school even if they do not occur at school.

As with all things digital, think first, post later or not at all.

Author: Jiwon Jeong

Jiwon Jeong is a senior and a Reporter for The Eye. This is his first year on staff and twelfth at SAS. He moved to Singapore from Seoul, South Korea, when he was four. In his free time, he enjoys listening to music, watching soccer, and writing creatively. You can contact him at jeong18794@sas.edu.sg.

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