Digital Technology: Safe and responsible use in schools

The following guide is a companion to the Guidelines for the surrender and retention of property and searches.

Licensing Criteria Cover

Searching for digital information

Under the Education Act 1989, teachers and authorised staff are not permitted to search a student’s digital device or online account for information, because doing so will breach students’ rights to privacy. There are other good reasons for schools to avoid taking this course of action. Conducting a search for digital information not only compromises students’ rights to privacy, but is a specialist activity.

The New Zealand Police are the only agency authorised to conduct such a search and they would follow their own processes as required by the situation. While specialist forensics service providers can conduct a search, schools do not have the authority to enlist their services to conduct a search of a student’s digital technology.

  • Why searching is not a practical solution
    • Maintaining the integrity of stored digital information

      The action of searching can change the information stored on the device. Digital technologies typically make a log of the actions carried out. Any attempt to access a device to conduct a search will be recorded, potentially compromising student safety and teachers’ professional integrity. Teachers accessing a student’s digital device may:

      • open themselves up to the accusation of having tampered with the device or information stored on it
      • break a chain of evidence that could be used to prevent harm being caused to a student or in disciplinary and law enforcement processes, or
      • infringe the privacy rights of other people who may have information stored on a device, such as parents.

      Carrying out a focused search

      Specialist knowledge and tools are required to carry out a focused search as opposed to ‘trawling’ through information stored on a device. The information being searched for may be:

      • a small part of a vast collection of text, images, audio, video and other data
      • inaccessible because it is protected by authentication or encryption
      • not stored on the device because it has been deleted or never existed.