Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Bullying...BY the school districts?

I live in the United States of America, and in this country there is an ongoing tension between the rights that we enjoy as citizens - including the presumption of innocence - and the maintenance of public safety. We often state that we are a nation of laws, but all that it takes is the mention of an excitable word - such as "Communist" or "terrorist" or "Ebola" - and we kinda sorta forget the freedoms that we are supposed to be protecting.

One issue that is receiving a lot of attention is a new law that was passed in Illinois. The stated intent of the law is to protect people from cyberbullying. Obviously, no one likes cyberbullying, so if you oppose the law, then obviously you are scum.

So what does the law do? By the time one school district got a hold of the law, this is how it was interpreted:

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.

Now there's a wide-ranging debate as to whether students have any rights at all, but if one believes that students have rights, this is troubling. This very issue was raised in nearby Minnesota:

Three years ago...12-year-old Riley Stratton sued her Minnesota schools district after she claimed she'd been coerced into revealing her Facebook password. Last year, the case was settled with the Minnewaska Schools District paying Stratton $70,000. In this case, Stratton was accused of writing nasty things about her hall monitor.

Oh, and there's one more thing, which I think was also pointed out back when Bozeman, Montana wanted to get employee passwords. If you give your Facebook password to a school district or city government, you're violating Facebook's own terms of service.

You will not share your password (or in the case of developers, your secret key), let anyone else access your account, or do anything else that might jeopardize the security of your account.

So in essence, school districts are forcing young people (who often can't defend themselves) to surrender private information, give up their rights, and break contractual agreements in the process.

Sounds like bullying to me.
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