While Illinois may not be as cutting edge as New York or Los Angeles, it is certainly breaking new ground in one area of modern life.
U.S. state governments usually tend to do their best to avoid comparisons to totalitarian regimes, but in this case those comparisons may be justified. A new Illinois law is designed to combat cyberbullying among students, but it also poses some very interesting questions on the issue of privacy and the internet.
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Demanding Facebook passwords: Far-reaching law
The law came into effect on January 1, and has since made some parents very uncomfortable indeed, according to KTVI-TV. School authorities have been sending out letters to parents telling them that their children’s social media passwords may have to be given to school staff as a disciplinary measure.
According to Motherboard, part of the letter reads as follows:
“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 site contains evidence that a student has violated a school disciplinary rule or procedure.”
Worryingly this also extends to activities undertaken outside of school, and non-compliance could lead to criminal charges. Some parents are worried what kind of private information the schools will be able to access, and the potential ramifications of staff possessing that knowledge.
Tackling the problem
Obviously cyberbullying is a modern scourge which should be eradicated from the nation’s schools, but you have to ask if this law is going about things in the right way. Illinois is swimming against the tide on the issue, with Oregon the latest state to forbid colleges and employers from demanding usernames and passwords.
If common sense were to prevail then it would seem obvious that authorities should be able to monitor what students are posting to their social media accounts, but demanding the right to access entirely private information without pretext seems positively Orwellian.
A survey of Illinois parents would be unlikely to uncover any of their number who doesn’t want to see the end of cyberbullying, but it seems that state lawmakers may have become quite overzealous with this latest piece of legislation.