Do I have the right to keep the contents of my phone private?
Can my school restrict when I use my phone?
Can my school confiscate my phone?
YES. Your school can take away your phone if you violate its cell phone policy.
What can I do if a school official asks to look through my phone?
You can SAY NO. If you say yes, you give the school the right to look through your phone and anything they find can be used as evidence against you.
Can my school look through my phone without my permission?
ONLY WITH A SEARCH WARRANT ISSUED BY A JUDGE based on “probable cause” that your phone contains evidence of a crime.[ii] This is true even if:
- You use your phone when you are not supposed to
- You break any other school rule
- You cause a disruption by using your phone
- Your school wants to search your phone to investigate another student’s misconduct
What counts as “probable cause”?
“Probable cause” means that a reasonable person would believe that there is evidence on your phone. It must be based on specific facts—not just on a hunch or guess.
If my school does get a search warrant, can it look at everything on my phone?
NO. School officials can only look for evidence of a violation of the law that you are suspected of breaking.
For example, if a teacher had probable cause that you violated the law by using your phone to contact drug dealers in a drug sale, he or she could look at your text messages with a warrant, but not at your photos, contacts, or anything else.
What can I do to protect the privacy of my phone at school?
If a school official asks to look through your phone, remember that you have the right to say no, unless they have a warrant. You should also use a screen lock to make sure that no one accesses your phone without your permission.
Do these rights and rules about cell phones apply to other electronic devices?
YES. These rights and rules apply to other devices including tablets and laptops.
[i] Cal. Ed. Code. § 48901.5(a).
[ii] Cal. Penal Code. § 1546.1(c). There is also an exception for searching a phone in an emergency, but only if there is “danger of death or serious physical injury to any person.”