Teachers should search students’ phones for ‘sexting’ images, minister suggests. [news.tes.co.uk, 28/01/2014]

Teachers should search for and delete inappropriate images on their students’ mobile phones to prevent them being distributed and used for cyberbullying, a Home Office minister has suggested.

Speaking in the House of Commons yesterday, Norman Baker said teachers should utilise extended powers granted to them to go through students phones and delete “sexting” images.

The Liberal Democrat crime minister was responding to calls from fellow MPs to consider banning teenagers from using smartphones altogether if they were being used to bully their peers by posting intimate images on the internet.

“We have given teachers stronger powers to tackle cyberbullying by searching for and, if necessary, deleting inappropriate images or files on electronic devices, including mobile phones,” Mr Baker said. “It is critical to educate young people about the risks of sending intimate photographs.”

The greater search powers given to teachers were introduced under the coalition’s Education Act in 2011, but were described by experts as going “beyond those of the police”.

As TES reported at the time, human rights group Liberty described the controls as “excessive”, adding that they were akin to those used in “terrorist investigations”.

Children’s charities and anti-bullying groups have spoken repeatedly of the dangers young people face if they share intimate pictures via text message, with many girls being coerced into sending images of themselves.

Speaking in the same debate, Conservative MP Sarah Wollaston urged the government to go further in its crackdown on cyberbullying involving sexting, and demanded an outright ban on teens using smartphones.

“The minister will be aware that many young people have been pressured into sending intimate photographs of themselves only to find that those images are sometimes posted, distributed or shared without their consent, which is an important form of bullying and harassment,” Ms Wollaston said.

“What measures have been taken, and does the minister support measures to prevent smartphone use by those who are not mature enough to understand that it can result in an important form of bullying?”

But when discussing the matter on TES Connect’s forums, teachers appeared reluctant to to use the powers available to them, suggesting that they were intrusive.