Illinois public schools have gained worrisome new powers over their students: A new law combats cyber-bullying by giving administrators the right to demand access to students' social media accounts—even if the online activities took place outside of school.
Previously, administrators could only ask students for their Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram passwords if the kids were using these services to bully each other during school hours, according to KTVI. But the new policy gives administrators nearly unlimited authority to violate students' privacy "if a school has a reasonable cause to believe that a student's account on a social network contains evidence that a student has violated a schools disciplinary rule of policy."
While school officials should make sure that no student is being subjected to physical harm or threats, efforts to prevent bullying often cross the line into invasion of privacy and violation of free speech. After-school disputes between kids are best handled by their parents, or by the police, if they are truly criminal in nature. And since instances of "bullying" are rarely as crystal clear as these laws assume—many kids occasionally treat others poorly, and are also mistreated by others at the same time—nobody benefits when prying administrators are granted license to police students' personal, non-school internet activity. Nor should school officials be generally trusted to apply this policy in a manner that is consistent with students' First and Fourth Amendment rights.