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Schools Can't Get Students' Facebook Passwords, Judge Rules

By Deanne Katz, Esq. | Last updated on

Students should rejoice since U.S. District Judge Michael Davis ruled in September that schools cannot force students to turn over their Facebook passwords.

The brouhaha over Facebook passwords has been in the media for a while since employers starting asking applicants to turn over their passwords. Courts and legislatures have tried to respond to that issue but this recent ruling was an affirmation of students' rights.

In the decision, Davis affirmed that students do have first amendment rights and new technologies don't change that.

The case involved a 12-year-old Minnesota girl who made a comment on Facebook about a hall monitor she didn't like. She also talked about 'naughty things' with a boy, reports Gigaom.

Someone ratted her out to school officials who interrogated her until the girl gave them her password. The officials, including a taser-armed cop, went through her Facebook and email looking for the 'naughty' conversations.

That was the wrong choice according to the court's ruling. School officials cannot infringe on student's free speech rights unless there is a clear threat of violence.

Since that wasn't the case, the school's seizure of her password was a violation of the student's rights.

There is of course the other issue of what a 12-year-old was doing on the site. According to Facebook's terms of use, users under age 13 are not allowed on the site. Registering an account for someone under 13, whether you are the account holder or not, is a violation of the terms.

The student's name hasn't been released but if Facebook was informed of it they would have deleted her account. That might have been a better move by administrators rather than trying to get into the account.

Internet privacy is a big concern as more personal information is put on social media and other websites. Make sure your clients know that courts - and you - take online privacy issues seriously.

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