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Breaking the Fourth’s Wall: The Implications of Remote Education for Students’ Fourth Amendment Rights

Posted by on Monday, November 27, 2023 in Notes, Volume 26, Volume 26, Issue 1.

Sallie Hatfield | 26 Vand. J. Ent. & Tech. L. 179 (2023)

As the COVID-19 pandemic forced both public K-12 and higher education institutions to transition to exclusively provide remote education, students’ homes and personal lives were exposed to the government like never before. Zoom classes and remote proctoring were suddenly the norm. Students and their families scrambled to create appropriate offices and classroom spaces in their homes, and many awkward and invasive scenarios soon followed. While many may have been harmlessly captured on camera, like classes that witness a student’s family eating lunch in the background or a dog on the couch, even these harmless instances have insidious implications for the future of government intrusion upon the interests protected by the Fourth Amendment within the home and beyond.

This Note argues that public schools’ virtual window into students’ homes, through mandatory remote classes and exam proctoring without the consent of students and their families, is an unreasonable search in violation of the Fourth Amendment. Going forward, public schools using remote learning technology should be required to obtain consent from students or their guardians prior to implementing such methods. Consent may be implicit or explicit, but must be informed and give individuals sufficient advance notice to adequately consider—or even object to—the government intrusion upon their privacy.

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