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UK Schools Consider Searching Pupils' Smartphones 283

Posted by Soulskill
from the time-for-some-kid-friendly-encryption-services dept.
An anonymous reader writes "What right to privacy do school pupils have on their mobile phones? UK education officials are considering ways to clamp down on cyber-bullying and classroom disruption by allowing teachers to search and delete content from student handsets if it is deemed unsuitable. However, questions remain whether such a move would give teachers too much power and infringe on student rights."
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UK Schools Consider Searching Pupils' Smartphones

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  • Sigh (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    The seeds of yet another encroachment on human rights by the UK

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by fiannaFailMan (702447)

      The seeds of yet another encroachment on human rights by the UK

      Kids are not adults.

      I remember when I was about 9 one of my mates drew some caricatures of the teachers in a notebook and passed them around. The teacher noticed us all giggling at it and demanded to see the notebook.

      Was that an "encroachment on human rights?"

      • Re:Sigh (Score:5, Insightful)

        by SimonTheSoundMan (1012395) on Monday March 07, 2011 @06:25PM (#35413032) Homepage

        That was when you were 9. Times have changed.

        Scenario 1:
        Johnny and Mark gets into a fight after school.
        1970 - Crowd gathers. Johnny wins. Johnny and Mark shake hands and end up best mates for life.
        2010 - Police called, arrests Johnny and Marko. Charge them with assault, both expelled even though Mark started it. Both children go to anger management programs for 3 months. School board hold meeting to implement bullying prevention programs

        Scenario 2:
        Robbie won't Keep still in class, disrupts other students.
        1970 - Robbie sent to office and given 6 of the best by the headmasterl, Returns to class, sits stil and does not disrupt class again.
        2010 - Robbie given huge doses of Ritalin. Becomes a zombie. Tested for ADD. Robbie's parents get fortnightly disability payments and school gets extra funding from state because Robbie has a disability.

        • by EvanED (569694)

          Not saying that everything going on today is an improvement but... you have a much-overromanticized version of history.

        • Re:Sigh (Score:5, Insightful)

          by fiannaFailMan (702447) on Monday March 07, 2011 @06:41PM (#35413248) Journal

          That was when you were 9. Times have changed.

          Scenario 1:
          Johnny and Mark gets into a fight after school.
          1970 - Crowd gathers. Johnny wins. Johnny and Mark shake hands and end up best mates for life.
          2010 - Police called, arrests Johnny and Marko. Charge them with assault, both expelled even though Mark started it. Both children go to anger management programs for 3 months. School board hold meeting to implement bullying prevention programs

          That's great. You've been watching The Bells of St Mary's where the bullied kid learns how to box and beats his opponent in a David and Goliath struggle and it all worked out beautifully. Congratulations.

          Now here's how it really happened in 1970. Mark picks a fight with Johnny who doesn't want to fight. Mark insists and instead of the good guy winning, Mark kicks the crap out of Johnny anyway. Johnny is left bleeding, bruised, dazed, stunned, crying and traumatised. Johnny goes on to have problems in later life because he was bullied in school.

          It wasn't all a bed of roses. God forbid if nostalgia for a non-existent golden age ever forms the basis of policy.

          • Re:Sigh (Score:5, Interesting)

            by Nikker (749551) on Monday March 07, 2011 @08:14PM (#35414236)
            You can predict the mental out come Johnny in either situation and that seems to be where we are falling short. By treating Johnny as a slighted traumatized victim before he himself has had a chance to reconcile the situation is what is getting us into this sheep culture to begin with. The reality is there will always be aggression between children as well as adults but indoctrinating a victim mindset is the worst possible method since it effectively eliminates the potential for the person being attacked to attain a positive state on their own and if that fails then intervene.

            All in all neither of you are correct because both of you make predictions based on outcomes that could go either way or neither but recommend or endorse solutions for your one outcome alone.
          • No, you've got it all wrong...

            A kindly Japanese man sees Johnny and takes him under his wing. Johnny thinks he's going to be taught how to fight but instead gets taught how to wax cars and paint fences. Eventually Johnny realizes these are all awesome fighting moves. Mark tries to sweep Johnny's leg. Johnny uses a cool pose that, if done correctly, no can defend... unless you take a step backwards.

        • by SeaFox (739806)

          Johnny and Mark gets into a fight after school.
          2010 - Police called, arrests Johnny and Marko. Charge them with assault, both expelled even though Mark started it. Both children go to anger management programs for 3 months. School board hold meeting to implement bullying prevention programs

          You forgot the lawsuits.

      • Re:Sigh (Score:5, Insightful)

        by BradleyUffner (103496) on Monday March 07, 2011 @06:27PM (#35413058) Homepage

        The seeds of yet another encroachment on human rights by the UK

        Kids are not adults.

        It's a good thing they are called "Human Rights", not "Adult Rights" then, isn't it?

        • When your kids are in school, the school gains the parental responsibility, thus they are able to set certain policies that you might assume only a parent has the ability to do to their kids.

          Minors and Adults are not equal, and I believe that was the point. It is for good reason that most cultures understand these differences; it is quite naive to pretend there isn't.

      • by jeko (179919) on Monday March 07, 2011 @07:00PM (#35413474)

        Absolutely not. Kids are minors, and therefore enjoy greater protection from the law, not less. They still retain basic human rights and many civil liberties. You cannot force a child to work commercially for you for free. You cannot compel a child to testify against themselves. The police may not search children without a warrant. The only reason schools enjoy greater control over their students is by arguing "in loco parentis," that they are literally acting as the child's parent while the mother and father are absent. Even under this doctrine, there are limits. You cannot compel a child to salute the flag or recite the pledge of allegiance. The school may not interfere with a child's practice of religion.

        This is all how it should be.

        My problem is with the implication of your post. Kids are not adults, so they have no human rights or civil liberties, so we can do what we want to them. The Great State of Texas has been a prime example of this, Kids get investigated as children with no human rights, and then tried as adults with no protections from the law.

        And honestly, speaking as a teacher, demanding to see the notebook was a rookie mistake. The problem with you and your friends was that you weren't focused on the lesson. Your teacher should have put you back on task, but instead chose to make this a personal issue between you. Your teacher sacrificed the strong position of "You're not learning the lesson" for the weak position of "You're hurting my feelings."

        Look at it this way. Do you remember what you were supposed to be learning that day?

      • by Golddess (1361003)
        Demanding a notebook that a bunch of students are giggling around, thereby causing a disturbance in the classroom, is not the same thing as stopping a student in the hallway and demanding access to their cellphone.

        Here's a better example. A teacher stops a student in the hallway and demands they hand over their backpack. Is this an encroachment on human rights? Some would say yes, some would say no. I'm not here to debate which it is, but at least now we've got a more accurate analogy.
        • The thing is that smartphones by definition nowadays tend to be more of an access point to all their stuff at home. The best example is a teacher decides that a student may be doing something his parents are fine with but the teacher doesn't like so that teacher comes to the kids house, forces the kid to log into everything, and goes through everything from facebook to the kid's private files for something to expel or suspend the kid for.

      • Please don't compare a notebook used primarily for school work (that usually gets handed into the teacher on a regular basis anyways) to a phone that is used for everything from surfing the internet, texting your girl/boy friend, talking to your grandparents and storing MANY photos of family/friends.

        Schools are not allowed to search your backpack (or locker in most countries) unless public safety is in danger (suspected gun/knife, etc), in which case the POLICE are called in to perform the search.
      • No one said they were adults. But the hardly makes them slaves of whoever happens to be overseeing them at any given moment. They are kids, not prisoners.

    • If you bring it to school then the school can impose rules on how you use it. Don't bring it to school if you don't like it. You might as well complain about having to get vaccinated or having to wear pants or leaving your bong at home.

      • by gmhowell (26755)

        You might as well complain about having to get vaccinated or having to wear pants or leaving your bong at home.

        Thank God they didn't have these crazy rules back in my day: I'd have never finished college.

      • There is a difference between imposing rules on how it's used (e.g. not permitting it to be on during the class), and forcibly gaining access to private content stored on said phone.

      • by youngone (975102)
        That's right. At my kids' school all phones are handed over at the start of day, and held by the teacher until the end of the school day. Everyone gets their phone back, I can txt my boys and they'll get the txt after school without interrupting class. The system works pretty well from what I can see.
  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Monday March 07, 2011 @06:13PM (#35412848) Journal
    On the one hand, a proposal to allow teachers to search smartphones is an expansion of the invasive-yet-dubiously-competent surveillance state. Therefore, our limey friends on airstrip one have an obligation to adopt it, it's in their national character or something.

    On the other hand, such a proposal will, almost certainly, provide teachers with a supply of kiddie porn, thus abetting the paedophile menace, perhaps the only thing that your average Daily Mail reader fears and loathes more than immigrants on the dole...

    How will they decide this one?
    • by Seumas (6865)

      On the other hand, they could just ban cell phones like they did when I was in school in the 90s.

  • by joocemann (1273720) on Monday March 07, 2011 @06:13PM (#35412854)

    No phones. Period.

    • by vxice (1690200)
      How about no phones during class time period? Do children not have ANY reason to have a phone? It is only when it is used during class time that it interferes. And the phone ringing counts as using. So a confiscate any found phones might keep them off or at least on silent when they can be disruptive but not removing them completely, i.e. no random searches.
    • by shish (588640)
      My school had a blanket ban on all phones; it worked excellently while I was there, but this was a few years ago -- I wonder if the youth of today are more attached to their phones than we were...
      • by Darinbob (1142669)

        What do you mean more attached than we were? No one had mobile phones when I was in school. We had walkie-talkies though and I can guarantee you that these were not allowed during class time. If we had an emergency and needed to use a phone, we would go to an office to use one. Humans managed to evolve for thousands of years without phones.

        Granted there are some cases where the mobile phone will be even more helpful in emergencies (beaten up and bleeding in the toilet stall and no way to contact a teach

        • by gknoy (899301)

          What children need to learn in school firstly is to sit down, shut up, listen, and focus.

          While that seems to be the norm, I hope it's not the ideal. I'd prefer that children learned in school to learn, ask good questions, and so on. Often that involves sitting down, listening, and focusing, but I don't think those should be the primary educational goals.

          They ARE, but they shouldn't be.

  • Games used to have a "boss key" so you could bring up a spreadsheet or something whenever your boss walked by so it looked like you were working.

    I see no reason smartphones couldn't have a program that had similar functionality for when a teacher walked by.

  • Simple solution. "Teacher, I forgot my password. Sorry!".
    • by kthreadd (1558445)

      You're talking about the country that throw you in jail if you "forget" your encryption key. Trust me, this is not a problem for them.

  • apologists (Score:5, Insightful)

    by epyT-R (613989) on Monday March 07, 2011 @06:30PM (#35413102)

    I'm sure there'll be plenty of apologists here who will say

    1. "I'm old and I don't like that young people have better times ahead of them so I am happy to hear about them being clamped down in some way."
    2. the legal apologist who says if the law allows/denies it, it must be ok/not ok. who cares that we're discussing, at least obliquely, the effects of this scenario that it creates.
    3. "when I was a kid" douchebags.
    4. the wannabe tyrant who props up his insecurities by always siding with big brother tyrants.

    How about just throwing out the kids who are disruptive in class? this way no property has to be ruined, no lawsuits filed, and the kids who want to be there to learn (or at least graduate) can do so. if it's the kind of thing where the kid's sitting there quietly with headphones on, leave him alone.. he's not bothering anyone else. the only reason teachers throw these kinds of 'offenders' out is because of their insecure feelings of being 'dissed.' Really, it's not necessary because the kid will fail the class...or pass it because he already knew the material. Remind him that paying attention is important and he'll need to take off the 'phones to do that. if he says 'no' just say 'remember there's a test next week, I hope you'll be prepared.' and leave it at that. if the kid keeps forgetting to turn off his cell phone ringer, then throw him out of the class until he starts remembering. none of this requires a panopticonic policy. of course such policies have a benefit for the emotional security challenged people out there who are more often than not in-charge.

    The 'cyber bullying 'excuse for this new 'power' is just another form of 'for the children.' searching/confiscating phones and deleting files on them is not going to stop bullying.. in fact, all this will do is enable yet another way for faculty to bully students.

    • by X0563511 (793323)

      Hey! We don't like logic 'round these parts! We be to busy thinkin' of the chillun!

    • by elewton (1743958)

      While I agree with the tone of your post, teachers are being paid to do a job, and their students' performances effect a teacher's career.

      Many students will go through periods of non-cooperation for very valid reasons, but the economic ramifications of allowing them to doss are potentially significant.
      Maybe educational reform would allow students who have zero interest in public school eduction to engage in learning more suitable to their needs, but no one is currently incentivised to allow slackness.

      • by digsbo (1292334)
        Slightly off-topic, but where are you that student performance has a significant effect on a teacher's career? As far as I know, student performance is forbidden from being used as any kind of "metric" to gauge teacher performance by the unions in every place I've heard of in the USA.
      • by epyT-R (613989)

        the students are not responsible for the teacher's well-being, nor should they be. the teacher is being paid under the assumption he knows how to teach. part of that is keeping their interest. if the teacher can't do this, he has failed. if a few kids are non-intrusively not paying attention, whether it's related to phone use or not, he's ok. those kids will pass or fail. if the whole class is failing, that's the teacher's fault.

        • by Obfuscant (592200)

          if the teacher can't do this, he has failed. if a few kids are non-intrusively not paying attention, whether it's related to phone use or not, he's ok. if the whole class is failing, that's the teacher's fault.

          So what you are saying is that the teacher must not just be interesting, but he must be the most interesting thing to those students in their entire life. They are allowed to bring in whatever outside distractions they want, as long as they are "non-intrusive".

          I think it is fair to rig the game so the teacher wins most of the rounds. I don't think anyone wins if the entire class is allowed to sit playing Nintendo DS for the entire day because they are more interested in their game than in learning anythin

    • by Darinbob (1142669)

      When I was a kid our douchebags didn't connect to the internet to update their status every time you used one.

    • by geekmux (1040042)

      How about just throwing out the kids who are disruptive in class? this way no property has to be ruined, no lawsuits filed, and the kids who want to be there to learn (or at least graduate) can do so. if it's the kind of thing where the kid's sitting there quietly with headphones on, leave him alone.. he's not bothering anyone else.

      Tell me a good reason any student "needs" a cell phone in school...This has nothing to do with old-school "douchebag" mentality, it has to do with providing a logical reason, and there is none. You simply cannot give me one.

      Don't even try the "my dog is dying of cancer and I NEED to be able to receive a call!" bullshit, because that's what a main school phone line and an intercom to page you are for. There's not a damn thing in this world that you would "NEED" to address 3 minutes sooner by having a direc

  • NYC department of education found an ultimate solution. All electronic gadgets sans HP calculators are banned in the public schools.
  • Is this not why people have a pin on their phone? Oh wait next they are going to be slapping little bobby in jail for not giving up his password under the terrorism act
  • "Headmaster, Headmaster . . . Nelson, minor, has twitter up his shitter!"

    Shamelessly stolen from Viz.

  • "questions remain whether such a move would give teachers too much power and infringe on student rights."

    That's like saying "questions remain whether Hitler was a bad guy" or "questions remain whether giving the police the authority to search houses without a warrant would give the police too much power".
    There's isn't any question here. Of course allowing teachers to search and delete whatever they want from a student's cell phone is an abuse of power. Just like allowing teachers to search and erase conte
  • This is absolutely a violation of the rights of the students. It is not a question, it is absolute.

    • I feel the phone is not a right, but the information they keep on it is. And so they ought to ban the phones. Everyone over 25 went to school this way and it works.

  • I had a disk I took to class searched once. I didn't mind. You know why? There was nothing counter to school policy on the disk.

    In general, I make sure I have nothing offensive on my person whenever I go out. What if the phone just slipped out of the student's pocket? To identify the owner of the phone, someone would have to search it anyway. My point is keep private things in private. If I go to a police station while waving a knife around and get arrested, I'm not going to claim that they violated

    • by russotto (537200)

      If no one had anything against school rules on their phones, then they wouldn't have to implement such a policy.

      Ah, the old "if you have nothing to hide..." argument.

      • Well someone had to argue the other side, the debate is boring if everyone is on the same team. :P

  • Someone mentioned in loco parentis, the idea that the school can do a lot of things because they are the de facto parents of the kid while at school. So, I would not be very surprised at all to see more of this in the future. Schools will confiscate phones (or tablets) under the guise of finding who cheated on the test, or who is dealing drugs, or sexting. Much like the cops searching your phone (without a warrant) when you are arrested, schools in the UK and the US will probably start doing this much more

  • by fred fleenblat (463628) on Monday March 07, 2011 @08:34PM (#35414422) Homepage

    I won't touch the debate on students' rights or cell phone policies, but it seems odd that teachers would be allowed to delete items. It puts them in a very precarious position, in a couple of ways.

    Basically, if something is offensive enough to be deleted, it should be instead preserved as evidence for disciplinary action. Once the evidence is deleted it's going to be very difficult to sanction the child at all and I can just imagine parents' exasperation when informed. How can they yell at their kid about something when the only "proof" was supposedly deleted?

    And if a picture or text message wasn't merely offensive but was evidence of an illegal act, the teacher will have committed destruction of evidence. And what if the teacher finds pictures of 12 year old students not fully clothed? Viewing stuff like that in class is likely to be a termination offence. Displaying it to other children could conceivably lead to a criminal conviction.

    Also, it seems naive to pretend that students won't adapt by just syncing/backing up their phones more often or downloading the offensive content again. And what if the offensive content was a web page? They can just bring it up again any time they want.

  • If it's OK to sift through a kid's backpack or notebook, then the same circumstances should allow a teacher to go through the kid's cellphone.

    Yes, today's cell phones (and laptops) can hold a lot more data than the (paper) notebooks of the '80s, but I find it hard to justify giving the electronic equivalents more protection than their low-tech predecessors. At some point, you have to draw a line (in both directions).

  • I'm sorry but ... WHY THE FUCK DO THEY NEED PHONES AT SCHOOL?

    Ban the devices. No one needs them, the school certainly has a phone for emergency phone calls if need be.

    Theres no reason a kid needs to have a phone in class.

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