Controversy erupted this week after an Illinois elementary school sent a letter home to parents. The letter claimed that the school had the legal authority to demand students’ passwords for social networking sites, such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, last.fm, and other popular websites. If the student was suspected of violating school procedures or disciplinary rules, the school could demand a student’s passwords.
A local news station originally reported that a new law aimed at combating cyberbullying allowed the school to demand student passwords. The information that the Fox News affiliate reported is incorrect.
The original Illinois state law, which allows schools to demand students’ passwords, was actually passed in 2013 and went into effect on January 1, 2014. The Right to Privacy in the School Setting Act (Public Act 098-0129) was originally intended to protect students’ privacy. Representative La Shawn K. Ford proposed the bill, which would have prohibited schools from demanding students’ passwords. Changes were made to the bill and enshrined into law, which allow schools to demand a student’s passwords, if there is a “reasonable cause to believe” a student’s social media accounts contain evidence that the student “has violated a school disciplinary rule or policy”. The language in the law is incredibly vague about what qualifies as “reasonable cause” to suspect a student of breaking the rules. Should dress code violators be forced to give up their Facebook and Twitter passwords for committing fashion crimes? The law’s vague language leaves it open to abuse. The letter sent by the Illinois elementary school to parents this week was a result of the 2013 law, not the new law aimed at combating cyberbullying.