High School Illegally Searched Girl's Cell Phone for Intimate Pics

privacy rights

A private photo goes public.

A 19-year-old woman known only as N.N. “was preparing to answer her ringing cell phone on school grounds,” as a 17-year-old high school student.  Her teacher seized her phone, because answering a call during the school day is a violation of district policy.  Fair enough.  But what happened next is a clear violation of privacy rights, according to the ACLU.

When N.N. was asked to visit the principal’s office, the principal “confronted her with several images of her exposed breasts found on the phone.”  N.N. was given a three-day suspension for violating the district’s policy against “sexting,” something she hadn’t actually done.  TODAY reports that the school has since agreed to “pay the teen and her attorneys $33,000.”

Investigators and prosecutors from the Wyoming County District Attorney’s office not only “threatened to file charges against the teen if she didn’t attend a special class,” but “made the comment that if she had waited a few months until her 18th birthday, Playboy would have published the photos.”  Incredible.  N.N. is suing the D.A.’s office, maintaining that the behavior exhibited by the principal and everyone at the D.A.’s office “is the equivalent of spying on me through my bedroom window.”

In the settlement, the school did not admit any wrongdoing, and the D.A.’s office refuses to comment on the case.  The ACLU warns that searching student cellphones without a valid reason and parental permission is a privacy blunder school’s should steer clear of.  In this case, N.N. clearly suffered great embarrassment at the grubby hands of adult men who were obviously trying to bully a young girl.  I think she could have taken her case further and settled for a much higher amount. 

Most importantly, I hope N.N.’s lawsuit against the Wyoming County D.A. not only brings her a personal victory, but sends a message out to all young girls letting them know they have a right to privacy.  And of course, as a parent, I hope this incident serves as a reminder to all teens, male and female alike, that digital images live on forever and are easily accessible by others.  Think twice before you take compromising pictures of yourself, youngsters!  You can sue the school and the D.A. for embarrassing you and violating your privacy, but you can’t sue your grandmother for yelling at you about knowing better and bringing shame on the family.

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