An Ohio judge declared unconstitutional a student room check by Cleveland State University prior to taking an online test. The decision represents a victory for digital privacy advocates, who have vehemently decried online test monitoring practices for many years.
Aaron Ogletree, a chemistry student, took an online test during the spring of 2021. Before the test began, Ogletree was asked to show the virtual observer his room through his webcam. Since there are other people in his house, he takes the test in his bedroom, where he says he has sensitive tax documents spread out over the roof. He claimed that these confidential documents could not be transferred prior to the test and were visible in the room’s scan recording, which was shared with other students. A record of room scanning as well as the ensuing testing process was kept by Honorlock, the university’s outside vendor.
Ogletree sued the university on the grounds that the practice violated its rights under the Fourth Amendment, which protects US citizens from “unreasonable searches and seizures.” The university, in its defense, argues that coin sweeps are “standard industry practice and that students often consent to their use.”
Federal Judge C. Philippe Calabrese along with Uglitter, and ruling that the university’s survey of the room constituted unreasonable research. “Ogletree’s self-expectation of privacy is viewed by society as being at the heart of the Fourth Amendment’s protection against government interference,” Calabrese wrote in her ruling.
Many universities around the world use online verification programs that may require room scans or similar practices. In some cases, students must show a direct observer their identity and surroundings; In other cases, they are recorded and monitored by AI and “suspicious signs” are reported to teachers. These programs caused controversy among students and were rejected by leading digital privacy organizations as well as government officials. The Electronic Privacy Information Center filed complaints against Honorlock and four similar monitoring services in late 2020, describing their practices as “inherently invasive.”
The privacy-focused nonprofit Fight for the Future, which runs BanEproctoring.com, called the ruling a “great victory”. We commend Aaron Ogletree, a student at Cleveland State University, for filing a lawsuit to stop the invasive and inappropriate “bedroom sweeps” his university requires for a chemistry exam. “Let Aaron’s victory be a wake-up call for other universities that continue to insist that such abusive programs be imposed on their students,” Leah Holland, director of campaigns and communications at Fight for the Future, said in a statement.
Dave Kielmeyer, associate vice president of Marketing and Communications at Cleveland State University, provided the following statement: Pursuant to the court order, Cleveland State University’s attorneys will speak with Ogletree’s attorneys regarding appropriate next steps. Ensuring academic integrity is essential to our mission and will guide us in our approach. While this matter is under active litigation, we cannot provide further comments.
Do remote sweeps on a slippery slope lead to more illegal searches?
Calabrese’s decision boils down to what the law considers reasonable for schools trying to prevent cheating. In the end, because Cleveland State’s uneven use of hall surveys (which are optional for teachers’ convenience) and the school had various other anti-cheating methods, the judge ruled that hall sweeps could not be considered a justifiable invasion of privacy. He also said that since the pandemic and Ogletree’s family health issues have prevented a student from accessing other options such as personal testing, any student who values privacy will have to sacrifice the right to privacy at home to stay enrolled. Calabrese wrote that this advantage, in contrast to the loss of benefits from social support programs without state approval for the search for housing, does not compensate for the loss of privacy for citizens.
Another problem Calabrese had with the Cleveland State argument was that the school did not provide much evidence that scanning rooms worked very well to prevent cheating. However, the claimant provided evidence that this does not always work. The judge suggested there may not be enough evidence for the effectiveness of room sweeps because the practice is so new, but it seems likely that his ruling could end the practice in schools nationwide before a study is conducted to substantiate any future claims by schools.
Calabrese cited one of the first slippery slope arguments in Supreme Court history in its decision upholding the Ogletree’s right to privacy. In the end, he wrote, while conducting a chamber survey may be considered relatively innocuous, its unconstitutionality was the abhorrent thing in this case, the unexplained searches at their lightest and least disgusting. This is how illegal and unconstitutional practices are taking their place, reads the opinion quoted by the Supreme Court, through “silent approaches and slight deviations from legal methods of procedure”. In his view, Calabrese seems to suggest that universities inspecting rooms may open the door to illegal inspections, and thus cannot be tolerated.
Source: court decision
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Does remote exam monitoring software expose students to unnecessary monitoring? Yes, according to the EFF, which is taking legal action against publisher Proctorio