Inside Higher Ed on Privacy [9:57 am]
A student in a public university dormitory room had a â€œreasonable expectation of privacyâ€ for his personal computer and its hard drive, a federal appeals court ruled on Thursday. The decision also found that despite that right to privacy, an administrator in the case under review had the right to conduct a remote search of the computer â€” without a warrant â€” because of the circumstances involved.
The decision â€” by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit â€” is among the highest level court rulings to date on a set of legal questions pitting privacy vs. security that are increasingly present in academe. While experts cautioned that the decision involved a specific set of facts, several also said it provided guidance for students on their privacy rights and for administrators at public colleges and universities on setting computer policies that give them the flexibility they feel they need to prevent security breaches.
In this case, we consider whether a remote search of computer files on a hard drive by a network administrator was justified under the â€œspecial needsâ€ exception to the Fourth Amendment because the administrator reasonably believed the computer had been used to gain unauthorized access to confidential records on a university computer. We conclude that the remote search was justified.
Although we assume that the subsequent search of the suspectâ€™s dorm room was not justified under the Fourth Amendment, we conclude that the district courtâ€™s denial of the suppression motion was proper under the independent source exception to the exclusionary rule.