Students suspected of “cyberbullying” could face criminal charges under a new Illinois state law if they refuse to reveal their social media passwords to school administrators.
According to the new rule, all forms of “digital harassment,” whether done on or off campus, will now be investigated as a violation of school disciplinary rules and procedures.
Parents and students in several districts were informed of the new policy, which began at the start of the year, after receiving letters from school officials earlier this month.
One such letter obtained by Motherboard states that administrators may demand passwords from any student deemed to have “evidence” relating to suspected cyberbullying.
“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,” a letter to parents in the Triad Community Unit School District states.
“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.”
According to Triad District Superintendent Leigh Lewis, refusal from students and even parents could lead to criminal charges.
“If we’re investigating any discipline having to do with social media, then we have the right to ask for those passwords,” Lewis told Motherboard. “If they didn’t turn over the password, we would call our district attorneys because they would be in violation of the law.”
Parents speaking with KTVI News argued that the law went too far and violated not only the rights of students, but of parents as well.
“It’s one thing for me to take my child’s social media account and open it up, or for the teacher to look or even a child to pull up their social media account, but to have to hand over your password and personal information is not acceptable to me,” said Sara Bozarth.
The new policy, which will likely be challenged by civil liberties advocates, clearly represents yet another brazen attack on the rights of both students and parents alike.
The new law also highlights the fact that the surveillance of students has become a major priority for many schools across the country.
Just last August school officials in Washington County, Maryland announced the activation of a new software program that actively monitors students’ social media accounts for illegal activity on and off campus.
“If the algorithm catches a phrase or a word then it will automatically generate a text message or an email,” District superintendent Clayton Wilcox said. “That email or text message will go either to the principal or to our director of school security or perhaps both.
Last August a former U.S. Army colonel turned school superintendent in Huntsville, Alabama created a secret surveillance program to monitor students’ social media accounts as well after reportedly receiving a phone call from the National Security Agency.