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A remote scan of a student's room before a test violates his privacy and a judge rules

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A federal judge said Monday that it was unconstitutional for an Ohio university to virtually scan a chemistry student’s bedroom before taking a remote exam.

J. Philip Calabrese of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio has ruled that student Aaron M. Ogletree’s right to privacy outweighs the interests of Cleveland State University. A judge has ordered Mr. Ogletree and the university’s attorneys to discuss potential remedies in the case.

The use of virtual software to remotely monitor candidates has exploded in the first few years of the coronavirus pandemic. At this time, millions of students suddenly had to take classes online to minimize the spread of the disease. Students and privacy professionals have expressed concerns about these programs, which can detect keystrokes and collect feeds from your computer’s camera and microphone.

Ogletree’s attorney, Matthew D. Besser, said his client felt “justified” by the ruling. “It was something he felt very strongly about, not just for his own privacy, but for the privacy rights of public school students across the country,” Besser said.

Cleveland State University, like many other schools, offered online courses before the pandemic and in 2016 published guidelines on how to manage these classes. The policy did not require or encourage the use of room scanning, but faculty and staff could decide whether to do it. According to the judge’s opinion, scan the room for testing.

The university offered a combination of remote and face-to-face classes in the spring semester of 2021. He is at higher risk in the pandemic, according to court documents.

In January 2021, Ogletree challenged the room scan policy in his General Chemistry II class. The policy said students taking tests remotely may be asked to show their work area before, during, or after the test, court documents said. Ogletree challenged the policy and was removed from the class syllabus three days later, court documents say.

The following month, two hours before the General Chemistry II test, the university’s testing service emailed Mr. Ogletree telling him that an examiner would check his work area before the test. Mr. Ogletree replied that the bedroom where he takes the test has confidential documents, including his 1099 form, and that they cannot be secured before the test.

According to court documents, Mr. Ogletree still complied with requests for scans, which lasted anywhere from 10 to 20 seconds to a minute. He then sued the school he still attended, claiming it violated his Fourth Amendment right to privacy.

Judge Calabrese concurred with his judgment. “Otherwise, as defendants argue, what legal standards govern scanning and what consequences such judgments may have on laws pertaining to other areas of life and technology. It raises the more difficult question of whether to do so,” he wrote.

A judge has ordered Mr. Ogletree and the university’s attorneys to discuss potential remedies in the case and provide an update in September.

Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost, the school’s legal representative, is reviewing the decision and consulting with the university on possible next steps, spokeswoman Bethany McCorkle said in an email. .

Dave Kielmeyer, vice president of Cleveland State University, said in an email. “While this matter remains pending, we are unable to comment further.”

Besser said that if the court decides to issue an injunction or order against this process, it applies only to Cleveland State University, but it could set a warning or precedent for other public universities. said there is.

“The impact is too significant to ignore,” he said. “I think all public schools across the country should take heed of this decision and start considering either eliminating these virtual searches for student housing or taking some kind of safety measure.”

Besser said it’s a legitimate interest to protect the integrity of the test, but hopes the case will encourage schools to do so in a way that doesn’t compromise student security.

According to Besser, students who don’t want cameras to see their home environment can’t be expected to find another place to take the test. You may not have the option to take the exam at

Evan Greer, director of Fight for the Future, a nonprofit that advocates for better protection of people’s digital rights, likens these platforms to spyware.

“Since the pandemic and with the advent of distance learning, there has been an explosion in this kind of school-mandated surveillance,” she said. “So we’re trying to draw a line in the sand.”

Some proctoring software allows the person observing the exam to control the student’s device, which raises privacy concerns in addition to room scanning, says privacy researcher Bill Fitzgerald. says.

“These systems have a spotty track record when it comes to security,” he said. “But even with an astounding track record with security, they are intrusive and reflect a power imbalance and mistrust of students.”

When Lucy Satithan, 19, was a computer science student at the University of Miami in Oxford, Ohio, she didn’t want a stranger to see her bedroom where her medicine was kept. Her and her colleagues’ experiences led her to work on security and algorithmic research in exam monitoring.

“It’s an intrusion into my personal space and that of others,” she said.

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