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May 21, 2010

"Student's Privacy Rights Violated in Pa. 'Sexting' Case, ACLU Suit Says"

The title of this post is the headline of this interesting piece by Shannon Duffy in the The Legal Intelligencer.  Here is how it starts:

The hot-button issue of "sexting" is coming back to court and this time the ACLU is setting out to establish that high school students have a right to privacy that includes the contents of their cell phones.

A team of lawyers from Cozen O'Connor has partnered with the ACLU of Pennsylvania to sue on behalf of a student who claims her constitutional rights were violated when the principal confiscated her cell phone, found nude images she had taken of herself and turned it over to prosecutors.

ACLU legal director Witold Walczak said the issue is an important one because many school officials incorrectly believe they have the right to search through cell phones whenever a student is misusing one. "We try to explain to them that they have the right to confiscate it, but they don't have the right to look through it," Walczak said in an interview.

Once again, the case stems from the wave of sexting discovered among students at Tunkhannock junior and senior high schools in Wyoming County, Pa., and the reactions it sparked in school officials and prosecutors.

In a previous lawsuit that was aimed only at the Wyoming County prosecutors, three students won an injunction that barred any prosecutions of students on child pornography charges for the nude and semi-nude images found on their phones.

According to that suit, school officials turned over the students' phones to former Wyoming County District Attorney George Skumanick Jr., who responded by targeting 13 girls and three boys with threats of criminal charges if they did not agree to take a class he had designed on the dangers of sexting.

Most agreed to take the class to avoid prosecution, but three of the girls and their parents instead enlisted the help of the ACLU to challenge the threatened prosecutions. Lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania won an injunction from U.S. District Judge James Munley that was later upheld by the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Some related "sexting" posts:

May 21, 2010 at 11:23 AM | Permalink


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Sad as it is, I think the precedents are on the side of the school administrators, at least when it comes to searching phones brought to the school.

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | May 21, 2010 12:43:26 PM

I don't know the legal term for this. However, if I burn down my house, and make no insurance claim, if I homicide myself, if I crash my car into a tree, intentionally, No one has a right to prosecute me.

Crime must involve the harming of another.

How is sexting different from all those self-inflicted acts? It can not be crime, by definition.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | May 21, 2010 1:54:36 PM

One wonders why the ACLU dumbasses did not pick up on this simplest of issues. One wonders why they went for a complicated, difficult, Ninth Amendment beef against the school.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | May 21, 2010 7:14:14 PM

article: "a student who claims her constitutional rights were violated when the principal confiscated her cell phone, found nude images she had taken of herself and turned it over to prosecutors."

me: i graduated from high school recently enough to remember that my school prohibited students from using cell phones during the day and i had to keep my cell phone in my locker during the day. i'd be very surprised if there wasn't a similar policy which could be sufficient to create reasonable suspicion of illegal activities, for example, sexting :P to justify a search to see if other rules were being violated.

ginny :)

Posted by: virginia | May 22, 2010 1:31:01 PM

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