Remote-proctored exams that colleges began using during the pandemic lost a first legal test, a decision praised by digital privacy advocates. A federal judge sided with a student at Cleveland State University who alleged that a room scan taken before his online test as a proctoring measure was unconstitutional, NPR reports. Before chemistry student Aaron Ogletree sat for a test last year, he was asked to show the virtual proctor his bedroom. He complied, and the recording was stored by one of the school's third-party proctoring tools, Honorlock. Alleging that the room scan violated his Fourth Amendment rights that protect U.S. citizens from "unreasonable searches and seizures", Ogletree sued. 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 Judge J. Philip Calabrese ruled for Ogletree that room scans are unconstitutional.
Since 2020, COVID-19 restrictions have forced students to take remote exams, and universities relied on on browser plug-ins and other software from third-party proctor companies to prevent cheating. Representing Ogletree, civil rights attorney Matthew Besser said, "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." Digital privacy advocates have raised concerns over online proctoring services' alleged civil liberties violations. In December 2020, the Electronic Privacy Information Center filed a complaint against five popular proctoring services, including Honorlock, for their "invasive" and "deceptive" data collection practices. The Ohio university said it was not aware of any data breaches related to remote exam recordings, and that access to the video is strictly controlled. Ogletree's room scan lasted no more than a minute, and as little as 10 seconds. 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.