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Old 03-13-2012, 12:56 PM   #1
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Password Privacy

That seems like an awfully slippery slope to me. Including the govt agency/ college/employer issue.

Red Tape - Up against the Wall! Should district be allowed to demand middle-schooler's Facebook password?

By Bob Sullivan

A 12-year-old Minnesota girl was reduced to tears while school officials and a police officer rummaged through her private Facebook postings after forcing her to surrender her password, an ACLU lawsuit alleges.

The claims are the latest in a string of tales showing that even password-protected, private online activities might not be safe from curious government agencies and schools. (See last week’s story)

The girl, whose identity is withheld in the lawsuit, came home "crying, depressed, angry, scared and embarrassed" after she was intimidated into divulging her login information by a school counselor and a deputy sheriff, who arrived in uniform, armed with a Taser, the lawsuit alleges

"(The student now) fears that the school could make her give up her passwords at a moment's notice, at any time, for any reason," the lawsuit claims. It also alleges that password prying is standard practice at the Minnewaska Middle School, which the student still attends. "(Officials) have compelled other students to disclose their private information and have accessed students' online accounts on multiple occasions," it states.

Officials at the Minnewaska Area School District -- which is about 125 miles northwest of Minneapolis -- say the ACLU's version of events is "one-sided," and that the school acted to "prevent disruption," according to a statement e-mailed to msnbc.com by Superintendent Gregory Ohl.

"The district is confident that once all the facts come to light, the district's conduct will be found to be reasonable and appropriate," it said.

When asked if the district has obtained other students’ login information, he responded, “We feel this is not accurate.”

The lawsuit raises the complicated -- and quite unsettled -- legal quandary that balances students' constitutional rights with schools' needs to maintain order and a positive educational environment. For example, can schools punish students who publicly criticize school officials on their own time using social networks?

Federal district courts have handed down contradictory decisions on that issue. Facing a chance to settle the matter, the U.S. Supreme Court in January declined to hear three cases on the issue.

But private social media criticism, intended only for a limited audience behind a password or a privacy wall, raises a different legal issue, said Teresa Nelson, a lawyer for the ACLU in Minnesota.

"The notion that it was a search of her private Facebook content ... the Fourth Amendment applies," she said. "The government has to have a really good reason to do that kind of search," and would need a court order in most cases, she said.

According to the ACLU's version of events, the girl had moved and entered a new school as a 6th-grade student in the fall of 2010. In early 2011, she felt targeted by a school monitor and posted an update to her friends-only Facebook wall saying she "hated" the monitor because "she was mean to me," using her own computer and while off campus.

Soon after, she was called into the principal's office -- he had obtained a screen shot of the post -- and given detention.

The student subsequently posted another update to her page related to the incident: "I want to know who the f%$# told on me," the complaint says. Again, she was called to the principal's office, and this time was suspended for "insubordination" and banned from a class ski trip.

In March, the student had a second run-in with school authorities. The parent of another student had complained that the girl was talking about sex with that student. The 12-year-old was called out of class by a school counselor and eventually brought into a room with several school officials and the sheriff's deputy, where the password demands began.

The ACLU claims that the school never asked the girl's parents for permission to examine her private Facebook space. The school district doesn't dispute that it obtained the girl's password, but does say it had parental permission.

"Any viewing of (the student's) Facebook account was done with the express consent of her parents," it said in the statement to msnbc.com.

In the First Amendment fight over online criticism related to school, districts and parents are relying on legal interpretations of an outdated 1969 Supreme Court decision knows as “Tinker,” which gives students wide latitude to criticize. That decision famously gave us the phrase, "Students don't shed their constitutional rights at the school house gates." The opinion offers little guidance about rights on the other side of a firewall or a Facebook password, however.

The Tinker case basically found that students can say what they want as long as the speech doesn't cause a disruption at school. But can a school's ability to punish students extend to activity conducted entirely off school grounds?

Dozens of cases over the last decade have failed to hash out the online version of this debate. In one, a Pennsylvania student who was suspended for making a MySpace page that mocked a principal was granted a reprieve because the U.S. Court of Appeals found it wasn't disruptive. In another, a West Virginia student's suspension was upheld after she created a MySpace page where students were encouraged to discuss if a fellow classmate had herpes.

Even though the National School Boards Association asked the U.S. Supreme Court to hear appeals on these two cases in an attempt to break what seems like a legal tie, the nation's top court demurred, leaving behind a lot of legal confusion.

"Things are complicated," said the ACLU’s Nelson. "Kids have been criticizing school officials since there have been school officials. ... If kids had been venting about teachers at McDonald's no one would care."

One important distinction noted by Nelson: While she believes demands for a student's Facebook password were a clear Fourth Amendment violation, there's no constitutional issue raised by a school official learning about a private communication that's volunteered by another student. In other words, students' private Facebook chatter is only as private as the participants make it.

The ACLU of Minnesota offers a rights handbook to students who use social media. While it's specifically applicable only to Minnesota law, its principles are universal.

The pamphlet notes that while school officials in most cases cannot force students to reveal their Facebook login information, officials can search for evidence of violations "if they have reasonable individualized suspicion" about an ongoing violation of school rules.

And while free speech rights may prevent schools from banning students from classes because of non-disruptive but critical Facebook posts, those legal protections do not extend to extracurricular activities. In other words, football players and math club members can be kicked off their squads for anything a school official deems against policy.

It's important to note that while Facebook's terms of service say members cannot give out their passwords or otherwise allow others to view private areas of their accounts. But those same terms say members must be 13 years old to join.




Link to last week's story that was mentioned in the article

Red Tape - Govt. agencies, colleges demand applicants' Facebook passwords
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Old 03-13-2012, 01:36 PM   #2
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How educators come to grips with and learn to effective deal with the shadow world of social media operating alongside the regular classroom and hallway environment is going to be rather interesting in the next decade.

This particular case seems ridiculous, though.
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Old 03-13-2012, 01:56 PM   #3
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i guarantee you it wasn't a kid that tattled, but rather a bored mom snooping through her kid's facebook account. she'd then came across both posts and whined to the school, because god forbid a teenager blows off some steam. you can't find a kid who never once thought "god i hate my teacher" for whatever reason. the only difference is we wrote it in journals that no one else saw instead of posting it on facebook.
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Old 03-13-2012, 08:10 PM   #4
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I had a teacher look through a journal of mine once back in middle school. I'd finished my work early in class and was just writing in a journal to kill time and my teacher for some reason felt the need to check to see what I'd been writing. What he found was me talking a bit about how bored I was and probably something funny a friend of mine had done or said that day or whatever.

And I was a good student! I'd never caused any trouble or concern for him before. So I'll never understand why he felt the need to look at the journal.

As for this Facebook case, uhhhhhhh, yeah, overkill much? It's not exactly like she was plotting a school shooting or anything of that note.
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Old 03-13-2012, 09:50 PM   #5
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The college where I work has intervened and disciplined people based on Facebook/websites/social networking. Usually it's for fairly legitimate stuff, like photos of underage kids drinking at a party...and no I don't personally care or agree with the current drinking age but to the school admin, illegal is illegal. There was also a case of a student harassing another student and part of it involved making disturbing threats and comments on Facebook. In all cases the person is dumb enough to share it publicly or with their 10,000 friends-of-friends and then wonder how the school admin found out.

Expecting someone to give up their password takes it to a whole new level.

Actually, being that I work in IT for said school, I know that it is against Acceptable Use Policy and Reponsible Use of Technology Policy to share passwords (I swear some days half of my work is dealing with people who cannot remember ONE password!), so it would be pretty silly of the school to ask for someone's Facebook password.
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Old 03-13-2012, 09:58 PM   #6
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If it's a public post, the kid is liable.

If it's a private post only visible to friends, and a login password is required, surely forcing the student to give up that information in a non-criminal investigation is a violation of civil liberties.
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Old 03-14-2012, 06:25 AM   #7
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The school had no business doing that. Teenagers let off steam all the time by complaining. The school has no legal authority to demand passwords to online stuff. Where do you draw the line? What if they start demanding students give out their email passwords? Is that right? If a school is honestly concerned about libel they should take it up with the parents, not bully a kid into giving out her password.

Schools cannot, and should not police what kids do off of school grounds.
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Old 03-14-2012, 07:03 AM   #8
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The school should be able to monitor everything done while at the school on the school's computers and/or network.

Stuff done off campus in private should be just that... private. If the school becomes aware of disturbing behavior and/or postings that were made in private, they should get the parents and/or appropriate authorities involved, not shake down students for passwords.
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Old 03-14-2012, 01:05 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Liesje View Post
The college where I work has intervened and disciplined people based on Facebook/websites/social networking. Usually it's for fairly legitimate stuff, like photos of underage kids drinking at a party...and no I don't personally care or agree with the current drinking age but to the school admin, illegal is illegal. There was also a case of a student harassing another student and part of it involved making disturbing threats and comments on Facebook. In all cases the person is dumb enough to share it publicly or with their 10,000 friends-of-friends and then wonder how the school admin found out.

Expecting someone to give up their password takes it to a whole new level.

Actually, being that I work in IT for said school, I know that it is against Acceptable Use Policy and Reponsible Use of Technology Policy to share passwords (I swear some days half of my work is dealing with people who cannot remember ONE password!), so it would be pretty silly of the school to ask for someone's Facebook password.
It's amazing what people post online. At my university, we have disciplined students based on incriminating pictures. My favorite example was the slip-n-slide. Some freshmen thought it would be a great idea to make a slip-n-slide in the hallway. They used oil. Needless to say, they didn't clean up, but we were able to figure out who did it, because they proudly posted the pictures on their Facebook. BTW, we were informed by another student who didn't want to have to pay for their damage.

As far as the password goes, that was awful. A school shouldn't have the power to force students to give up passwords.
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