Scanning Students’ Rooms During Remote Tests Is Unconstitutional, Judge Rules

from MindShift

The remote-proctored exam that colleges began using widely during the pandemic saw a first big legal test of its own — one that concluded in a ruling applauded by digital privacy advocates.

A federal judge this week sided with a student at Cleveland State University in Ohio, who alleged that a room scan taken before his online test as a proctoring measure was unconstitutional.

Aaron Ogletree, a chemistry student, sat for a test during his spring semester last year. Before starting the exam, he was asked to show the virtual proctor his bedroom. He complied, and the recording data was stored by one of the school’s third-party proctoring tools, Honorlock, according to the ruling documents.

Ogletree then sued his university, alleging that the room scan violated his Fourth Amendment rights protecting U.S. citizens against “unreasonable searches and seizures.” In its defense, Cleveland State argued that room scans are not “searches,” because they are limited in scope, conducted to ensure academic fairness and exam integrity, and not coerced.

U.S. district court Judge J. Philip Calabrese on Monday decided in Ogletree’s favor: Room scans are unconstitutional.

More here.

Posted in Education, Privacy, Technology and tagged , , , , .

14 Comments

  1. I agree with the ruling that the court made. I not only agree with the points that were stated, but I also have more points to add onto the argument. For starters the whole idea of scanning someone’s room to see if they are cheating is wrong. When a student would go to school before the days of quarantine, a teacher never had the ability to see someone’s bedroom or the inside of the house. When a student was given an assignment to do they never had to take a camera and film themselves doing the assignment to show that they were not copying off of someone else’s paper or that they were looking up the answers to a homework assignment. So turning your computer screen should not be okay as well.
    I also believe that making a student turn their screen to show where they are taking an exam is also useless as well. If a student is taking an exam in the office of their house for example, if that office has a computer in the room the test proctor might be unhappy with an additional screen and might somehow mean they are going to cheat. So what happens if the student moves to a separate room and that room has a smart TV in it they can still cheat using something like that, changing the room is not going to change the students mind. It could be said that there might be something wrong with the system that if a student had a way of cheating they would exploit every opportunity to cheat if given the opportunity to.
    Which leads me to my last point, there are instances that exams can be cheat-proof so to speak. A lot of times the exams that students cheat on are the ones that they have to memorize information and recite that information. It is easier to cheat on an exam like that when all we have to do is copy and paste information. If we had to express our opinions more or give the importance of the information or maybe the practical use of it we would be forced to learn it more. For example rather than doing an exam on what year every United States President was in office maybe making us write an essay about what current events were taking place at the time and how that effected the policies that they were putting into place would help the students learn more about the content and it would be almost impossible to cheat (without copying parts of essays) because they would have to explain all parts of that.

  2. Scanning students’ rooms during remote tests is unconstitutional, judge rules
    Covid-19 was an extreme adjustment for everyone, in and out of the classroom. With all classroom activities now becoming remote teachers and students alike must completely adjust the way they do there work and the way they’re examined. The article I read for this blog post entails a recent case which took place at Cleveland State University in regard to a student who felt the new methods of keeping academic integrity during remote examinations was unjust and breaching his fourth amendment right, protecting him for unreasonable search and seizure. In various ways the student is correct for believing such when looking at the way the proctoring and honor lock systems work. Forms of proctoring tools such as honor lock watch the individual as he/she is being examined compiling data of the room surrounding the individual prior to the test as well as during. Cleveland state argued that what the camera sees is limited and the inspection is purely for keeping academic integrity during the exam and has nothing to do with any sort of criminal activity.
    However, this does not change the fact that students are required to have the proctoring system scan their room without formal permission and if they don’t comply, they will fail the exam with no room for redemption. This fact is the reason why it is so unjust to keep these proctoring systems in use in consideration of the fact that students are essentially forced to comply with unreasonable search of there rooms/ place of living. The students of this nation aren’t the only ones who agree with this belief, an exceptional quote which backs up my statements quotes “In December 2020, the Electronic Privacy Information Center filed a complaint against five popular proctoring services, including Honor lock, for their “invasive” and “deceptive” data collection practices.” (Bowman). Students as well as digital privacy advocates and corporations have drawn many issues regarding honor lock and other proctoring services data collection methods. A room scan constitutes a search of someone’s dwelling without just reasoning or a warrant which is clearly a breach of somebody’s fourth amendment rights where it clearly states “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue” (congress).
    It is clearly stated in the fourth amendment written by James Madison himself that no searches can be conducted without probable cause or search warrant. Not only do our fore fathers believe in such but the law does as well with the judge of the case against Cleveland State University siding with the student. “”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,'” Judge Calabrese said.” (Bowman). It is in complete reason for me to state that proctoring tools are unconstitutional in consideration of the evidence I have provided.
    Work Cited
    Bowman, E. (1970, August 25). Scanning students’ rooms during remote tests is unconstitutional, judge rules – mindshift. KQED. September 7, 2022, from https://www.kqed.org/mindshift/59789/scanning-students-rooms-during-remote-tests-is-unconstitutional-judge-rules
    Madison, James. “U.S. Constitution – Fourth Amendment | Congress.” Constitution Annotated Analysis and Interpretation of the U.S. Constitution, Congress, 1789, https://constitution.congress.gov/constitution/amendment-4/.

  3. As a current college student who has used Honorlock room scans multiple times to take at home tests, I found this post to be particularly intriguing. In my own personal experience, I always felt uncomfortable recording my room for another third party company to look at and use. With how important and prevalent data collection is these days, you never know what companies are learning about you through methods such as this. Additionally there was no information regarding what was done with the footage. Was it viewed by someone and then discarded? Is it stored by the company forever? While questions like these always made me apprehensive towards video taping my room, I never once questioned the legality of such measures, and therefore always complied.

    Learning about Alex Ogletree, a student at Cleveland State University and how he sued the university over their use of this technology is music to my ears. I imagine there were many students like myself who felt uncomfortable with the recordings, however for him to actually stand up for himself in the court of law is great. He argued that room scans fall under the category of “unreasonable searches and seizures” which can be found in the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution. The reasoning provided by the judge was that Ogletree’s interest in privacy in his house outweighed the Universities interest in scanning the room. The purpose of scanning the room is to limit cheating, which could be easier for students to do during remote exams. However, when you are infringing on somebodies constitutional rights to in an attempt to prevent that, then you end up getting sued and losing in court.

    The argument from the defense had two main parts, that a room scan is not a search, and that Ogletree did not have to scan his room. They claimed a room scan is not a search because the video can be as short as ten seconds and can only see things in plain sight. I disagree with this argument because just because it isn’t the most in depth search in the world, doesn’t make it not a search in principle still. Additionally, one thing that I thought was a weak argument on the defenses part was their claim that the room scans were voluntary. They said that Ogletree did not have to scan his room, and by doing so consented to it. In the same breath however, they acknowledge that “A student who refused to perform the exam could still take the test, the school argued, even if opting out meant getting no credit for the exam”. It is simply not fair to argue that holding a grade over a students head is not coercion into scanning his room, because he truly didn’t have a choice if he wanted to get a good grade in the class.

    In conclusion, I think the judge made the right decision and I’m happy to hear about the ruling of this case.

  4. Although I believe it is not right for a school to force a student to scan their room before a test, I see no issue with students having their cameras on during class time or for an exam. This is because I am a student myself and I know that students who keep their cameras off during class are either not present or not paying attention. By having cameras on during class it allows the teacher to see all of their students and make sure they are paying attention. For people who don’t want to show off their room in the background, there are options to blur the background so that all the class sees is the students face. this allows for the teacher to still see the student without invading their privacy and viewing their room. on the case of students being forced to scan their rooms before an exam, I do agree that this is uconstitutional. It invades the students privacy, but also gives their scan to a third party which seems sketchy. If students didn’t have to scan their room and could just have their cameras on, it would secure the student’s privacy but would also give the teacher assurance that the student is not cheating and is paying attention.

  5. The main issue in this case with Honorlock is whether the room scan is a necessary component to keep students from cheating on exams or is it more of something that makes it seem like they are stopping when it does nothing. The room scan is completely unnecessary as it does not actually stop anyone from cheating it just attempts to scare students into not cheating. Therefore, this unnecessary search is completely unreasonable as it does nothing but violate students right to privacy in their own areas while trying to scare them into not cheating. I believe that systems like Honorlock was a cop out by most professors to not attempt to change their teaching style to accommodate the virtual space. Its quite simple, if you give the same exam for multiple years in a row, the answers will be on the internet and students will go looking for them and find it. Teachers made it seem as if Honorlock would make it impossible for students to cheat when taking online exams through Honorlock only acted as a slight deterrent. Professors should have instead found ways to test their material through other means such as short answer questions or essays with limited time. Simple multiple-choice questions are obviously a much worse way to judge comprehension of course material than an assignment where the student has to explain the material. This ruling has only made it clearer that most professors are not interested in expanding on their own teaching style and instead stay in their old ways that are proven to be less effective at preventing cheating as well as creating a better learning environment. If this ruling ends up affecting most universities, I believe professors may begin to change the way they teach their curriculum and especially how judge the retention of information from students. However, professors may not change due to the switch back to mostly in person classes as the country becomes less concerned with Covid 19 and attempt to get students back into the classrooms.

    • I feel like you really summarized the idea of the article pretty well. I’ve taken a few honor lock exams myself and thought it was such a weird experience, it flagged me for possibly everything, and I felt it was a disturbance while I did exams. I do see a possible change in the future of methods to prevent this and also keep privacy rights of students. I think this is something overlooked, and important tot alk about.

  6. During virtual classes it is often customary for universities to install online proctors during tests and exams. Although they may not be the most ideal way of supervising a test, it is a method. However, in the case of being installed on a laptop in the sanctuary of their own hope there is a good point in the case by Alex Ogletree against his university. The fourth amendment is one of the many laws passed in this great nation which provide liberty and freedom to the citizens. The government without a warrant has no right to seize or inspect what is going on inside of someone’s home. The same rules and regulations should be enforced at a university as well. If a student is taking a test, it cannot constitute the teacher and the school to spy on the student’s personal room to access if the student is cheating. It is highly unethical and goes everything that our nation stands for. A proper and needy solution to this whole ordeal should have lied between the students and the university. The university should disclose the procedure to use Honorlock before the course and hand out contracts to the students for them to decide. If they had handled the situation of this manner, there would have been no substance to the case. I also believe that it is imperative for universities to rapidly increase their technology systems in which the tests are done in a way cheating is not remotely possible when taking a test. Instead of using third party systems there should be websites and programs created by each school unique for their program. It was also interesting to see that this was not the first case against Honorlock for being invasive towards privacy. Honorlock really has made a notorious name for themselves during this online period and many universities may opt to avoid this program now. Therefore, the ruling by the judge given to this case is correct in my opinion. It is important for other universities to use this case as precedent for the upcoming years. Online classes are nowadays rapidly increasing in enrollment and to avoid a situation like this all universities should learn from this case.

  7. As a student who started college during the COVID-19 pandemic, Honorlock was and still is a tool that many teachers use to proctor online quizzes and examinations. Similar with Mr. Ogletree’s case, I too have had to take online exams with Honorlock and have found it to be intrusive. I understand what the program is designed to do and as well as understand why teachers and professors see this as a security measure to prevent cheating, but the I also feel that some aspects of Honorlock are unnecessary. With this in mind, mine and Mr. Olgetree’s situations differ slightly. Furthermore, Olgetree attended Cleveland State University in Ohio, which is a public institution, as I attend Seton Hall University, a private institution. This is a key difference in comparing our two cases because of the policy regarding private institutions. These specific privacy policies would not and do not hold up when speaking about a public institution issue. Additionally, Seton Hall has the power to use Honorlock because when we “signed the contract” to go here, we agreed to this.

    Regarding Olgetree’s case, he claimed Honorlock’s policy and teacher’s requirement to record the surrounding testing area, his room, was in violation of his Fourth Amendment rights preventing unwarranted searches and seizers. Cleveland State University argued that the Honorlock recording does not constitute as a “search”, due to being limited and not pertaining to the law, but to ensure academic integrity. The court found for Mr. Olgetree in agreeing that his security and privacy outweighs the Cleveland State’s interest in academic scanning. As a fellow student, I agree with the ruling of this case for the same reasons why Judge Calabrese stated. Again, I understand that, due to these specific circumstances, this ruling does not apply to Seton Hall University due to being a private university. I believe that as schooling is getting more and more based in technology, teachers and professors need to find or develop another way to proctor online testing. On the contrary, as a schools and university find their way back to in-person classes, this issue may disappear within the near future.

  8. Universities frequently employ virtual proctors for tests and exams in online courses. It’s a approach, even though it might not be the best for testing monitoring. Yet, Alex Ogletree’s claim against his university holds merit in the event of being put on a computer inside the sanctity of their own home. One of the numerous laws created in this excellent country that offers its inhabitants liberty and freedom is the fourth amendment. Without even a warrant, the government is not authorized to search somebody’s home or seize property. A university must also uphold the very same guidelines and requirements. The instructor and the school are really not allowed to monitor on a student’s personal boundaries while the student is taking an assessment to find whether the student is cheating. It is completely unethical and undermines what our government stands for. The students and also the universities must have worked together to reach an appropriate and required resolution to the entire scenario. The institution should give the students agreements and clarify the Honorlock procedure before the course so that they can make decisions on their own. There wouldn’t have been any merit to the case had they managed the circumstance in this way. I also consider it essential for institutions to swiftly advance the technology used to administer exams in a manner that makes cheating on them practically impossible. Websites and programs designed especially for each school’s program should be used instead of third-party systems. It was also amusing to learn that Honorlock has already been accused of invading personal rights. Honorlock has acquired a negative reputation in this online era, and many institutions might opt to keep away of this program at this point. I consequently feel that the juror’s decision in this case is reasonable. It is important that this case serves as a precedent that other universities can follow in the coming years. All colleges should take note of this issue because participation in online courses is now expanding rapidly.

  9. In Emma Bowman’s article, she provides an overview of the landmark case Ogletree v Cleveland State University. The case entails the discourse relative to the constitutionality of e-proctoring, and whether room scans are in fact a violation of the fourth amendment rights of students. Ogletree v CSU raises questions as to what the implications may be for the future and what exact precedent this case actually provides.
    Despite Cleaveland States Universities’ attorneys’ claims that room scans are not violations of their student’s privacy, this statement does not hold true. In my opinion, I find the entire idea of failing a student or omitting credit from an examination, in which students choose not to show their exam environment, to be a violation of their fourth amendment right. The fourth amendment grants citizens the right to secure their homes and papers against unreasonable searches. So, wouldn’t these scans be considered a search, more specifically, an unreasonable one? These scans are violations of privacy, and as judge Calabrese said, “room scans go where people otherwise would not, at least not without a warrant or an invitation…” Beyond this factor, I also believe that such a rule would then be coercive, as teachers are practically utilizing grades as an incentive in which to search these individuals’ homes, even though they may not prefer it. As Aaron Ogletree had said, he had important papers in his home he did not want to be recorded or shared, which is entirely valid. My peers and I may have the same concerns, we may have children or roommates in the area we may not want to be publicized or forms of identification.
    Not only are these technologies a violation of our fourth amendment rights, but they could also pose a threat to our safety. These concerns of mine are emphasized by the mention that Honorlock, and numerous web tools similar to it, have been continuously found to have suspicious data collections, vulnerable to hackers and other forms of data breaches. In my first semester of college, I used Honorlock myself and did not feel particularly comfortable. When I conducted my scan I nearly displayed my entire home, as I live in a small open floor plan home. My scan consisted of numerous photos of my family, and surprisingly my mailbox in the window as well as my neighbors. While I did in fact trust my teacher with this information, I do not think all my classmates would have this level of trust. Yet, even if they did, I cannot imagine any of us feeling safe knowing our facial recordings, room recordings, and student IDs are all saved to data servers susceptible to possible data breaches, etc. No one knows where exactly our information may end up, and who may have access to it, we may not be interesting enough candidates to stalk to track down, but the possibility shouldn’t even exist.
    Interestingly, could the same fundamental questions found in Carson v Makin be applied here? Due to Cleveland State University being a public state-funded school, could the conclusion found in this case be omitted from religious or private institutions? Cleveland State’s coercive searches as well as the logging of information for the administration or institution backed by the federal government would in turn be a violation of the Constitution. However, if institutions utilizing these systems aren’t state-funded, would there still be a violation? Would imposing this precedent on religious institutions then be a violation of the separation of church and state? Could this exact argument be brought to the Supreme Court in the coming term?

  10. I believe that the remote side to learning has stressed out a lot of teachers and citizens of America. When the Coronavirus suddenly hit our nation, almost every school and academic employee had to quickly put their whole classroom into a remote setting. There are many benefits to being in person, and being online while learning. For example, the number one benefit was preventing the spread of the virus very well since classrooms are usually very packed with students. One of the downsides to learning online is that teachers can not really prevent the concept of cheating. For example, I remember when I was in my junior year of highschool and we would take an online quiz, it was very easy for kids to cheat. This is very bad for education in this country because it makes the school systems wonder if these children are actually learning the concepts that they will need for their futures. In this court case, however, I would definitely agree with the judge. I don’t believe that making a child show his living space to a teacher is right, nor legal. It is a complete violation of the 4th amendment of the Constitution. Sure, I think that there should be some type of attempt by the teacher to make sure cheating does not happen in the remote setting, but making a student show their living space is most definitely not the way to do it. I remember that my teachers would make us have our cameras on our faces the whole time we were taking the test, which is completely fine in my opinion. There are also many other legal ways that teachers can assure themselves that their students are not cheating. The website Palomar EDU states many ways that teachers can prevent cheating in the classroom, “Be wary about using a take-home exam (if using, ensure questions are unique, meaningful and authentic which require higher-order critical thinking, Try to avoid multiple choice questions that are easy to Google. Create more application type questions that ask students to analyze, explain, and interpret. Use short answer or essay type questions related to a reading or case study. Schedule the exam to be taken at a set time rather than being open for a 24-48 hour window. Keep exams brief (e.g. 15-30 min.) but more frequent. Randomize exam questions and answer choices.” (Palomar Edu). I definitely agree that teachers should be regulating cheating in the online classroom, but there is a point where it is too far.

  11. We all went through a tough time during covid 19. One thing that changed was school; we didn’t go in person anymore; it was all online. As a college student I have used honorlock and rook scans many times. I like how this article brought up something we have gone through. My first time using the room scans I was very uncomfortable because the first place I was in my room. Where I feel safe and comfortable. Then having everything in the room being invaded and not knowing those recordings could have been used in something that I don’t know. Knowing there could be companies that are collecting data. They could be collecting from you and are learning methods from you. Do we really not know what these companies and websites are using with the footage and data? Yes we know why colleges were doing honorlock and scanning the room. To stop cheating and dishonesty while doing exams or quizzes at home. But scanning the room isn’t really helpful. It’s really not doing anything, just invading out privately. It’s completely unnecessary search is really unreasonable. It does nothing but violate the student right to have privacy. In their area just for them not cheating. “Room scans are a common requirement in proctored exams where students are forced to use their device’s camera to give a 360-degree view of everything around the area in which they’re taking a test frequently in a private space, like a bedroom.” That is what the article states. The states of Ohio rules that honorlock violated a students constitutional right to privacy. They ruled that a room scan prior to an online test as one needed for school is a violation of the constitutional right to privacy for all students. It’s not only an invasion of privacy but a violation of the fourth amendment’s guaranteed protection against unlawful searches in homes. If college and professors want to cheat they should stop using the same quiz and test year after year. One thing that we all have is the internet and we also have google we can completely just look it up. I believe with the student from Ohio saying yes this is a violation of my amendment of having protection in my own area. This completely invaded my privacy.

  12. As a former Biology student at Seton Hall University, my Chemistry exams were also proctored on the same platform as Aaron Oegeltree’s, so I understand his concern about this right to the Fourth Amendment. Cornell Law School provides the rights we have under the Fourth Amendment specifically stating it is, “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized. It was fascinating to see a student in college, just like me, know his rights well enough to bring this matter to court. I think it is important that the issue presented in the scanning of the room was against unreasonable search and seizure because it is an act of coercion on the student. For Aaron, myself, and any other individuals who have utilized HonorLock, there is relatively no other choice we have than to comply with the room scan because we would be putting our grades in jeopardy if we refuse. I believe that it is right for the teacher to want to prevent any cheating from occurring during the exam, but a room scan of someone’s personal space should not have to be required because it erodes a student’s right to privacy and can be considered a search without a warrant. Alongside the room scan, Honorlock also makes the student show their face during the whole exam and their student ID before the test. Monitoring students during the whole exam can also be an invasion of privacy as well because of the fact that many students are in a way forced to use Honorlock because it is mandated by their professor. In an article by State press, Luis Hammer, a student, gave his concerning opinion on Honorlock and stated that “the program’s ability to monitor his actions in real-time “feels a little dystopian”(State Press). I agree with what he is saying because the rights of individuals have come so far and this issue seems like it is backtracking in our progress as a nation. In the article, the Judge’s ruling, in this case, was shown to support the student and said: “that Cleveland State’s practice of conducting room scans is unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment”. I am in favor of his decision and I think there could be other ways to implement a less invasive way to implement academic integrity instead of using HonorLock. The fact that many students feel uncomfortable with this site, such that at Florida State University, there was a petition with over 4500 students’ signatures because they felt it was “creepy and unacceptable”(EFF). Students deserve to be respected more highly than to be monitored by their every action during an exam.

    https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2020/09/students-are-pushing-back-against-proctoring-surveillance-apps
    https://www.statepress.com/article/2022/01/honorlock-lockdown-browser-test-surveillance-concerns-asu
    https://www.law.cornell.edu/constitution/fourth_amendment

  13. Remote-proctored exams are something that every student, especially college students, dreads. I have had to take multiple remote-protected exams in college, and I will say that I am not a fan. I understand that the purpose of proctored exams is to discourage students from cheating, however, it feels more like an invasion of privacy. Students these days are smart to find other ways to cheat. Each time I have used Honorlock at Seton Hall University, I have felt uncomfortable being recorded. In general, it is a weird concept that your professor is allowed to look in your room and watch you as you take an exam. When I take exams, I subconsciously do embarrassing things such as pick at my skin or play with my hair, which I do not want my professor to see. Additionally, with remote-proctored exams, I never know who is seeing my video and where it is being saved. Is my video being sold on the Black Market? Possibly. We will never know, and this is a scary thing to wonder. I am glad the legality of remote-proctored exams is being tested.

    A student at Cleveland State University claimed that room scans for exams is unconstitutional, and I agree. The student said that room scans violated his Fourth Amendment rights protecting citizens from “unreasonable searches and seizures”. Cleveland State argued that room scans are not “searches” and they are not coerced. The university also said that students were free to object from doing a room scan, however, this would result in the student getting no credit for the exam, which is unfair. Despite Cleveland State’s defense, US district court Judge J. Philip Calabrese decided that room scans for exams are unconstitutional and unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment.

    There are alternatives to professors forcing their students to do room scans before exams. The first alternative is to make exams in person only. I agree that during covid, this option would not be practical but now that most schools and classes are in person, there is no reason that professors cannot make exams in person. Another alternative is to record students taking exams online but do not require them to do room scans. Recording the faces of students while they are online are equivalent to professors recording class lectures. I wish Seton Hall University would stop using Honorlock, but being a private institution, they can pretty much do whatever they want so Honorlock is not going anywhere anytime soon.

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