“The road to hell is paved with good intentions,” is a saying that can be applied to a new state law in Illinois that Forces Students to Give Up Social Media Passwords or potentially face criminal charges.
The new proposed law, applied in January of 2015 under 105 ILCS 5/27-23.7, titled Bully Prevention, attempts to protect students at school from being bullied by other students.
However, in an effort to protect students, the law has opened the door to violating individual’s rights to free speech, religion and privacy. While the new law’s goal is to protect students from bullying, a reading of the law shows that the law is also an attempt by the schools to gain authority over student activity and protect the schools from liability as a result of bullying. The law protects students from bullying that occurs during any school sponsored education program or activity, while in school, on school property, on school buses, at bus stops or any school sanctioned events. Additionally, the law protects students from bullying that occurs “from a school computer, a school computer network, or other similar electronic school equipment.” 105 ILCS 5/27-23.7.
The law requires schools and districts to notify parents of the policy the school is adopting regarding the reporting, investigating and punishment of bullying. This section of the law has given schools and districts very little guidance regarding the reporting, investigating and punishment of bullying and, as a result, some schools and districts have taken that lack of direction as a green light to require students to disclose their social media account passwords from Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. After much resistance from parents and free speech and privacy advocates, the law that was enacted has removed the language Subsection four (4) of the proposed bullying law was not included in the final law that was passed. This section read:
(4) through the transmission of information from a computer that is accessed at a nonschool-related location, activity, function, or program or from the use of technology or an electronic device that is not owned, leased, or used by a school district or school if the bullying causes a substantial disruption to the educational process or orderly operation of a school. This item (4) applies only in cases in which a school administrator or teacher receives a report that bullying through this means has occurred and does not require a district or school to staff or monitor any nonschool-related activity, function, or program.
This section granted schools and districts the authority to investigate and punish transmissions that occurred at a non-school location such as the home or a cell phone on the weekend. The law also states that the victim of the bullying still has the ability to notify police regarding the bullying.
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