Students suspected of cyberbullying or other rule breaking must give their social media passwords to school officials, according to a new Illinois law.
The law went into effect on Jan. 1 and requires that students who are suspected of cyberbullying or harassment "via digital means" violates school rules, according to Motherboard. A school district letter was sent out to parents that explains that school officials can demand student passwords for Twitter, Facebook or Instagram accounts.
A letter from the Triad Community Unit School District #2 read:
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 . . . 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.
Although Motherboard points out that nowhere in the law does it say that schools can ask social media passwords, it does specify that schools must have an investigative process within "the scope" of the school or district.
In the past, Press:Here has written about the phenomenon of employers, schools and universities asking for social media passwords, which has been banned in several states including California in 2013.
Kade Crockford, director of the Massachusetts American Civil Liberties Union, is trying to make school policies like this one illegal in Illinois. "It's a tragic example of government overreach—the notion that there's a substantial difference between cyberbullying and regular bullying is confusing," Crockford told Motherboard. "Anytime a school is trying to control students' behavior outside school, it's a serious threat to their privacy and to their futures. . . . Keep in mind that legislatures pass unconstitutional laws all the time."
The question is also what purpose does it serve to have social media passwords to investigate cyberbullying? The perpetrators could easily erase the messages or photos before handing over their passwords. They also could easily hide their identities or deny their accounts. So far it doesn't seem like there's been much thought into how this new law can be successfully implemented.