The new regulations would allow the College to access, inspect and seize students’ personal devicesDiliff / Wikimedia Commons

St John’s College has been forced to U-turn on a new policy which would have allowed college representatives to seize students’ personal devices.

The college’s updated Student Code of Conduct, which was released to students last Friday (28/07), proposed additional powers for use in investigations of internet rule breaches.

Section 1.5.6 of the code included a clause stating that where “possible infringements” of IT rules occurred, college representatives would have the right to access, inspect and seize both students’ devices and the information contained on them.

Following a student backlash, the college has announced its intention to scrap the relevant clause in the code of conduct, pending a student consultation.

The code states that these powers can be used in response to “misuse” or “abuse” of university networks, although no examples of such offences are given. Students found guilty may also have their access to university networks suspended and be subject to “severe sanctions”.

An open meeting was held at the college on June 15th to discuss the new code of conduct with students. The email advertising the meeting, however, made it clear that the session was “not intended to be a consultation”, and was intended only to “answer any questions and hear comments”.

Student feedback produced at the open meeting included complaints that the rules were “a violation of privacy” and would leave students having their property “seized and searched without their approval”.

The college subsequently confirmed that the rule’s legality had been checked and that seizure “may be necessary in order to investigate possible infringements or breaches”.

According to the college, a fresh student consultation is now underway.

One John’s student told Varsity: “I was quite surprised to see such sweeping and vague powers be given to College”.

They continued: “I find it deeply concerning that the rule about personal devices seems so broad and doesn’t list the specific cases where College may step in”.

Another student questioned the necessity of the measures and said the changes would cause “frustration and mistrust between students and college representatives”.

“It seems as if they are trying to catch us out”, they said, before labelling the decision to email students the new code alongside other documents without highlighting the changes as “underhand”.


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A number of other colleges’ codes of conduct do not mention seizing personal devices and instead subject students to regulations published by the University Computing Service, instead of any college-specific guidelines.

Caius College offers guidelines stating any infringement of university-wide rules is regarded as a “serious matter” and may incur a fine or the suspension of access to IT facilities. Queen’s College also relies on the standardised policy, with any breaches “treated as disciplinary matters”. Neither mentions the right to inspect or seize students’ personal devices.

A spokesperson for St John’s said: “A student consultation is currently underway regarding the College’s disciplinary processes and procedures and it is expected that revisions will be agreed by mid-August”.

The spokesperson continued: “St John’s will not seize devices in the event of a breach of the College’s IT policy and the phrasing will be updated to reflect this”.