Under a new law, parents of schoolchildren in the US state of Illinois will be required to hand over their child’s social media passwords if they are found to be cyberbullying another student.
In a document posted online by the Illinois General Assembly, the law went into effect stating unequivocally that a child may not be bullied – either through physical or digital means – and any student engaging in the latter will leave themselves open to investigation.
The law states, “The policy or implementing procedure shall include a process to investigate whether a reported act of bullying is within the permissible scope of the district’s or school’s jurisdiction and shall require that the district or school provide the victim with information regarding services that are available within the district and community, such as counselling, support services, and other programs.”
While not specifically stating taking passwords in the legislation, a letter sent to parents in the Triad Community Unit School District #2 obtained by Motherboard, does reference password confiscation directly.
Violating constitutional law
The letter says, “If your child has an account on a social networking website, eg, 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.”
In an interview with Motherboard, Leigh Lewis, superintendent of the Triad district who sent the letter, said that if a parent and bullying student don’t comply with handing over passwords, they “would call our district attorneys because they would be in violation of the law”.
The decision has not gone down too well with those invested in civil liberties and human rights, with Kade Crockford, director of Massachusetts’ American Civil Liberties Union, saying the law is unconstitutional.
“Here we may be having students who are being forced to violate federal law to comply with a state law,” Crockford said.