Victory for students taking online exams

Federal judge rules room scanning during online exams unconstitutional

When the COVID-19 pandemic struck in 2020, schools were forced to lock down and run on an online modality. As a result of that, exam proctoring programs were used to prevent students from cheating during their online exams. 

Many students and teachers felt as if these proctoring programs were an invasion of privacy, given that they would scan your tabs, your files, your physical surroundings, your browser history, how long you spend on a tab or question, and sometimes would even require you to show your government-issued identification card to verify your identity. These programs also store the recorded data for professors to review.

 After many students and teachers spoke out about this potential problem, a federal judge has ruled that room scans during online exams are unconstitutional.

Room scans conducted by a proctoring program require a complete 360 view of the student’s surroundings. 

Aaron Ogletree, a chemistry major from Cleveland State University, went to take an online exam when the proctoring program HonorLock asked him to provide a room scan. While Ogletree obliged, he sued the university after taking the exam, claiming that the room scan violated his Fourth Amendment right that protects him against unreasonable searches and seizures. 

Cleveland State University claimed that the room scans are not considered “searches” by the Fourth Amendment’s classification since they are limited in what can be seen and are only used to ensure academic integrity. The university also tried to claim that the proctoring program was in “general public use” and was not considered an infringement.  

Despite the university’s best efforts to defend the room scans, U.S. District Court Judge J. Phillip Calabrese ruled in Ogletree’s favor.

Mr. Ogletree’s privacy interest in his home outweighs Cleveland State’s interests in scanning his room. Accordingly, the Court determines that Cleveland State’s practice of conducting room scans is unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment,” Judge Calabrese said. “Rooms scans go where people otherwise would not, at least not without a warrant or an invitation. Nor does it follow that room scans are not searches because the technology is ‘in general public use.'”

Although the case was just against Cleveland State University, this was a federal court decision that will prevent all universities across the country from using proctoring programs that require room scans. 

“The case appears to be the first in the nation to hold that the Fourth Amendment protects students from unreasonable video searches of their homes before taking a remote test,” Ogletree’s attorney, Matthew Besser, said.