Federal Judge Rules That Scanning Students’ Rooms During Remote Exams Is Unconstitutional

Using a student’s camera to scan their room for impermissible study aids during remote testing is unconstitutional, an Ohio federal judge ruled this week. The ruling comes after more than two years of proctored, remote testing done during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The plaintiff, Aaron Ogletree, was a chemistry student at Cleveland State University when he was asked to show a proctor his bedroom remotely during a spring semester exam. The scan was recorded and stored by one of the university’s third-party proctoring vendors.

According to the August 22, 2022 opinion, Cleveland State’s online proctored exams begin with students showing their IDs next to their faces after which either a proctoring application or a proctor asks students to conduct room scans which other test-takers can see. The opinion states that the scan of Ogletree’s bedroom lasted less than a minute and could have been as little as 10 or 20 seconds.

Ogletree sued the school, alleging that his Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures was violated. He asserted that the remote room scans were Fourth Amendment searches “because students have a subjective expectation of privacy in their houses, and especially in their bedrooms, and society recognizes that expectation as reasonable.” Cleveland State responded that these room scans did not constitute searches under the Fourth Amendment because they are “standard industry wide practice” and students usually comply. Furthermore, it argued that Ogletree did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy because the scans were routine, the technology is “in general public use,” and society’s expectations of privacy had changed with the technology. Finally, the school asserted that the scans were not Fourth Amendment searches because they were limited in scope, done to protect exam integrity, and not coerced.

U.S. district court Judge J. Philip Calabrese ruled on a motion for summary judgment in Ogletree’s favor, concluding that the student’s privacy interest in his home outweighed the university’s interests in scanning the room. He wrote in the opinion, “Although the intrusion at issue might not strike a person as especially problematic, particularly in the nascent Zoom era, the core protection afforded to the home, the lack of options, inconsistency in application of the policy, and short notice of the scan weigh in Plaintiff’s favor.”

Additional Reading

Scanning students’ rooms during remote tests is unconstitutional, judge rules, NPR (August 25, 2022)

Ogletree v. Cleveland State University Opinion and Order (August 22, 2022)

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