Public schools in Illinois are interpreting a new anti-cyber bullying law to mean they can demand passwords from students allowing them access to children’s Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media accounts.
According to local media reports, a letter was sent to students in the Triad Community Unit School District #2 alerting parents of the districts’ intentions:
“If your child has an account on a social networking website, e.g., Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, ask.fm, etc., please be aware that State law requires school authorities to notify you that your child may be asked to provide his or her password for these accounts to school officials in certain circumstances.
School authorities may require a student or his or her parent/guardian to provide a password or other related account information in order to gain access to his/her account or profile on a social networking website if school authorities have reasonable cause to believe that a student’s account on a social networking website contains evidence that a student has violated a school disciplinary rule or procedure.”
However, many believe the school districts are over-reaching in their interpretation of the law. Motherboard.com points out that the law itself makes no specific mention of children (or parents) being compelled to turn over private passwords to social media accounts:
Nowhere in the law does it explicitly state that schools are allowed to ask for students’ passwords, but one section of it says that schools must implement a policy that includes a “process to investigate whether a reported act of bullying is within the permissible scope of the district’s or school’s jurisdiction.”
Civil libertarians have expressed grave concerns over this intrusion, no matter how altruistic the schools’ intentions may be. CNet points out that there have been similar movements in other states couched in the declared intention of protecting kids from bullies:
The whole idea of an authority being able to demand social media passwords has undergone some challenges over the last couple of years. This year, Oregon became the latest state to decide that colleges and employers would be forbidden from demanding social media usernames and passwords.
It’s one thing for authorities to observe what employees, students or suspects are posting on social media. It’s surely another to think that they have the automatic right to simply demand what is quite obviously personal information. In Illinois, it will all likely come down to the idea of reasonable cause. (No case has yet emerged of a school exercising its alleged right to ask for a password.)
Fox11 reports on some of the reactions of students and parents in the district.
“I think it’s unreasonable,” college student Nathan Sterling said. “I think it’s an invasion of privacy to the extent that, if a student wishes to share something with a university, it should be to their discretion.”
Other students, though, say the new law sends a strong message that threats and cyberbullying will not be tolerated.
“It’ll help stop bullying by raising awareness and stopping those kids that have been bullied or will get bullied in the future,” student Keanna Williams said.