Delaware bans colleges from requiring students’ social media passwords

Both state and federal legislators have been considering a wave of bills concerning online privacy in schools and the workplace.

Should a university be able to edit a student’s Facebook profile or check his private tweets? Absolutely not, said the Delaware state legislature, as it recently passed the first state law to forbid schools from requiring students to divulge personal social media login information.

Signed into law by Gov. Jack Markell on July 20, HB309 bans both public and private higher-education institutions from committing a range of student privacy violations.

Delaware colleges and universities cannot require or request that students turn over login information, nor can they ask students to log on to their personal social networking sites in the presence of a school representative.

The law also bars schools from tracking students’ personal online activities or requesting that the student add a school representative on a social networking site. A school could not demand, for example, that a student approve a teacher as a Facebook friend.

Originally written to include primary and secondary schools as well, the final version of the law limits its scope only to post-secondary institutions.

Legislators reconsidered the K-12 portion of the bill after hearing concerns that schools working with younger children would deal more frequently with cyber bullying problems, said Damian DeStefano, legislative aide to the bill’s sponsor, Democratic Rep. Darryl Scott.

In the wake of several high-profile cyber bullying cases, schools have been under increasing pressure to monitor instances of students bullying each other via social media.

“We wouldn’t want to handcuff a school in its ability to investigate cases of bullying,” he said.

Another factor that complicates student privacy laws in the K-12 space: the rise of “bring your own device” (BYOD) programs designed to get technology in the hands of more students.

When students are bringing their personal devices into the classroom for instruction, and teachers need to monitor those devices, “to what degree does that make everything on the student’s device available for school review?” said Nancy Willard, director of the Center for Safe and Responsible Internet Use, in a phone call with eSchool News.

“Should a student be able to password-protect access to their device? Should the school be able to demand the access password on those devices? Tricky issues,” Willard wrote in a subsequent eMail message.

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