- Cleveland State University violated the Fourth Amendment's protection against unreasonable government searches and seizures by scanning rooms via online proctoring software before students took exams, a federal judge ruled Monday.
- Aaron Ogletree sued Cleveland State after he had to agree to a camera scan of his bedroom before he could take a remote chemistry exam during the spring 2021 semester.
- Ogletree alleged he wasn’t given enough advance notice about the room scan to arrange for an on-campus test instead, according to his complaint. But even if he were, he argued, the coronavirus pandemic would have prevented him from taking the test in person, forcing him to agree to the room scan to avoid receiving a zero grade.
The lawsuit could have heavy implications for colleges and virtual proctoring companies, which exploded during the pandemic as institutions were forced to hold their exams online. While many colleges enlist these companies to keep their exams secure, vendors have faced accusations that they violate student privacy and use facial recognition technology that has a history of racial bias.
Cleveland State contracts with two online proctoring vendors, Respondus and Honorlock, according to court documents. Each of these tools has prerecorded instructions requiring students taking remote exams to scan their rooms via their webcams, even though Cleveland State doesn’t require or recommend such scans in written policies.
In February 2021, the university notified Ogletree that he would be subject to a room scan during his remote chemistry exam. While he complied, he later sued the university for violating his privacy rights, arguing that ongoing health issues precluded him from opting out of the room scan by attending exams in person.
U.S. District Judge J. Philip Calabrese ruled in Ogletree’s favor, arguing that the home lies at the center of the Fourth Amendment’s protections.
“Though the intrusion in this case was not physical, the same principles protecting the sanctity of the home apply to a visual intrusion conducted through remote technology,” Calabrese said in his ruling.
The institution could use alternatives to tests for assessing students, such as final projects or papers, which would eliminate the need for room scans, Calabrese wrote. He also argued that Cleveland State did not provide enough evidence to show room scans were effective.
“Perhaps experience with room scans is too recent or not extensive enough to offer much in this regard,” he wrote. “Whatever the case, a record of sporadic and discretionary use of room scans does not permit a finding that rooms scans are truly, and uniquely, effective at preserving test integrity."
The judge directed lawyers in the case to confer on the next appropriate steps, such as whether to enter a declaratory judgment or injunction. They must submit a status report by Sept. 12.
“Ensuring academic integrity is essential to our mission and will guide us as we move forward,” Cleveland State said in a statement. “While this matter remains in active litigation, we are unable to comment further.”