Many students regard their phones as one of their most valuable possessions. Between addictive games and a plethora of social media apps, students live much of their lives glued to their screens. Phones almost act like a digital diary, containing moments from our days, funny screenshots and private conversations. But a new bill that was recently introduced could endanger all of that.
The California Electronic Communications Privacy Act (CalECPA) was enacted over a year ago in Jan. 2016 and prohibits any federal or state official from accessing electronic devices without a search warrant issued from court. However, the bill introduced into California state legislature plans to change the terms of the CalECPA for academic institutions.
Assembly Bill 165 specifies that the CalECPA doesn’t apply to “local educational agencies”, describing them as any county office of education, school district or charter school. By taking public schools off of the CalECPA, the bill essentially grants school officials and administration to seize cellphones and other electronic devices from students at any time without a warrant, giving schools the ability to gather any information needed.
Assembly members who support the bill state that this information could prove crucial to school authorities when investigating occurrences at school such as cyberbullying, but there is strong opposition to that as well. According to ACLU technology civil liberties policy attorney Chris Conley, there is the argument that there are other, safer ways to help face bullying at schools, and that unlawfully seizing electronic devices is not an effective strategy for doing that.
The concern is apparent among several groups in Calif., including assembly members in state legislature, the Student Press Law Center and students and student journalists at MVHS.
“I think that it’s a gross intrusion of our civil liberties,” senior Aayush Jain said. “It’s a blatant violation of the constitution, because I think people should have a right to their own privacy.”
Jain’s sentiments were echoed by other students, who expressed their distaste and horror at the introduction of Assembly Bill 165.
“It’s a violation of my privacy. I come to school to learn, not for them to find out what I’m doing outside of school,” freshman Nitin Subramanian said. “I feel like there’s a lot of things that go on in social media that you don’t necessarily want teachers looking through, and are very private.”
Subramanian brings light to an important issue that arose along with the new bill. He hints that many applications on students’ electronic devices, including social media, text messaging applications and camera roll that could possibly house very private and personal information.
Privacy is a problem that student journalists at many public schools face as well. There is rising concern among those at the Student Press Law Center about the affects of this bill on interviewees and the recorded phone interviews that many students take. While student journalists are protected by federal law from search and seizure, students like junior Bhavna Sud worry that the bill will lead to an overreach in the school administration’s power.
Sud is a member of Res Novae, MVHS’ science and technology publication, which uses private cell phones to conduct almost all of their interviews. She believes that the new bill unfairly targets students and can potentially force student journalists to break their promise with their interviewee.
“With journalism, you have to make a promise to [the interviewee]that you’re not going to reveal the [confidential]information they give you,” Sud said. “That it’s just going to be used for journalism and that nobody else will see it. And if they don’t want something to be seen by anyone else then it won’t be seen. But if somebody can just seize your phone, you’re breaking that promise and that presents a pretty big problem.”
Even though Assembly Bill 165 is raising concern from student journalists like Sud and other students attending MVHS, the bill is still going through state legislature and will not be passed in the near future.
“I think just because you’re a minor, you shouldn’t lose your basic human rights to privacy that adults get,” Sud said. “Especially in high school, when you’re almost an adult, you should get the same rights as everyone else.”