Both chambers of the Delaware Legislature have now given unanimous approval to a bill that would keep schools from taking even a single peek at their students' social media profiles. The prohibition applies to all the state's students, regardless of whether they are enrolled in a public or a private school. The measure, HB 309, is one of a pair dealing with social media privacy. The other, HB 308, addresses the kind of access employers may demand of their current or potential employees, and is still being debated by lawmakers.
The bill, which is now awaiting Governor Jack Markell's signature, underscores a recent trend of schools demanding increased access to this kind of information from their students. According to The Wall Street Journal, colleges and universities around the country are adding language making social media monitoring software mandatory for some scholarship recipients. MSNBC recently reported on such change being introduced by the University of North Carolina, and calls it "typical."
"Each team must identify at least one coach or administrator who is responsible for having access to and regularly monitoring the content of team members' social networking sites and postings. The athletics department also reserves the right to have other staff members monitor athletes' posts," the handbook says.
The Delaware measure only applies to secondary schools, but is still offers some of the strongest protection to students around the country, according to an attorney Bradley Shear, who helped draft it.
If signed by the governor, "the bill may protect secondary schools from social media monitoring lawsuits while also protecting the personal digital privacy rights of students," Shear said. "Since schools generally do not have a duty to monitor their students' off campus activities in the real world, they shouldn't have a duty to monitor their students' off campus digital activities."
Specifically, the bill prohibits schools from asking students or potential students for social media passwords, from demanding that kids submit to social media monitoring, or even requesting access by having students log in to a site themselves and then allowing a staff member to read it.
The schools also can't require that students add an employee to their private friend list.
Shear believes that the passage might spur other states currently considering similar legislation. According to the Los Angeles Times, a bill addressing student privacy for social media in California was recently approved by a sub-committee of the Assembly Committee on Higher Education and will now go before the entire Committee membership. The Maryland Senate has likewise approved a comprehensive student social media privacy bill, but it has been unable to make additional progress due to a deadlock in the passage of the state budget.