Illinois Law Allows Schools To Demand Students’ Facebook Passwords

A new Illinois law that went into effect earlier this year grants school administrators the authority to demand the social media passwords of students suspected of rules violations and/or cyber bullying, Think Progress is reporting.

The law allowing school administrators to demand students’ social media passwords is part of a larger push in Illinois to address cyber bullying and other forms of online harassment. To that end, the law also included language to the effect that it’s meant to combat behavior associated with it, including “vandalism, shoplifting, skipping [classes] and dropping out of school, fighting, using drugs and alcohol, sexual harassment, and sexual violence.” The law would apply whether the alleged misbehavior took place on or off school property.

Engadget writer Mat Smith is quick to point out that the new Illinois law does not explicitly state that administrators can demand students’ social media passwords; rather, the law stipulates that schools must have “a process” to investigate should a suspicion of cyber bullying arise. However, an extension of that process would be that school administrators could demand a student’s social media passwords; and at least one Illinois school district have taken the law’s meaning that way.

Parents of students in the Triad Community School District, in southwest Illinois near St. Louis, have received a letter from school administrators telling them about how school administrators in the district intend to comply with the new law.

“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.”

It is not clear what sort of penalties a student, or his/her parents, could face if they refuse to give up their passwords. Smith believes that it could ultimately become a matter for law enforcement to sort out.

“Refusal to cooperate could (and we mean could) even lead to criminal charges being pressed.”

The new Illinois law is already raising Constitutional concerns about privacy, according to CNET. In fact, it may not stand up in court at all. Legislators in at least five other states have laws on the books preventing employers from demanding employees’ social media passwords, according to this Inquisitr report. Further, there’s a precedent-setting case out of Minnesota that seems to fall squarely on the side of students’ privacy when it comes to students being compelled to give passwords to school administrators: 12-year-old Riley Stratton, suspected of writing nasty things about a hall monitor, was compelled to give up her Facebook password to school administrators. She later sued, and the school district settled and agreed to pay her $70,000.

As of this post, there are no known cases of Illinois school administrators demanding a student’s Facebook password.

[Image courtesy of: Gallery Hip]