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Teen Settles in School Cell Phone Privacy Case

By Jason Beahm | Last updated on

What happens when a high school teacher confiscates your cell phone, the principal looks through it, finds nude photos and turns the phone over to police?

You get paid.

A minor student from Pennsylvania, identified in the lawsuit as N.N., settled with Tunkhannock Area School District and school officials for $33,000. As is typical in settlements, the school did not acknowledged any wrongdoing in the cell phone privacy case. N.N.'s claims against the District Attorney's Office were not part of the settlement, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. N.N. filed a federal complaint against the District Attorney's office with the help of the ACLU.

According to the lawsuit, N.N. had her school cell phone confiscated after a teacher caught her breaking a school rule by making a call on campus in 2009. She was called to Principal Gregory Ellsworth's office, who told her that nude photos had been found on the phone and suspended her for three days. He also told her that he turned the phone over to law enforcement. The District attorney, George Skumanick Jr., upped the ante when he contacted the school, threatening to bring child pornography charges against N.N. unless she took a course on sexual violence and victimization, CNN reports.

"An adult would go to prison for this," Skumanick told CNN. "If you take the photo, you've committed a crime. If you send the photo, you've committed a different crime, but essentially the same crime."

Despite Skumanick's hard line on the subject, sexting remains a complex area of law. While most everyone is in favor of preventing the sexual exploitation of minors, there is concern that  children with serious criminal records, including sex offender labels, for what is far more innocent. The settlement in N.N.'s case signals one of the first prominent cases of a student pushing back, and succeeding, in challenging the actions of schools with regard to cell phone privacy.

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