It’s My Password and You Can’t Have It!
The First Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees us the right to express beliefs and ideas with unwarranted government restriction. Arguments of placing limits on the expression of ideas and beliefs under the first amendment seem to be at the forefront of hot news topics these days. It seems that everyone wants to know what everyone is doing and while social media allows us to share it does not mean that we must share with everybody. Placing limits and censoring our right to free speech seems to be the “norm” for quite a few school systems and employers lately.
A 12 year old Minnesota girl was recently called to her principal’s office where she met with school administrators and the resource officer (who was carrying his gun, handcuffs and pepper spray) and was forced to give up her Facebook password so they could monitor her. Word in the hallways was that she complained about a school administrator on her Facebook page and while it was non-threatening, she was forced to hand over her password or face “big trouble” all without her parents’ knowledge. In my opinion, this was nothing short of administrative bullying. If the administration felt that the girl was causing a threat, the parents should have been notified before taking action. Unfortunately this is not the only case of cyber snooping in the news. An Indiana high school senior has been expelled from school for a tweet he made using profanity that he says was on his personal computer at his home. (The school system disputes this saying it was on a school network.) A Kansas high school senior also made the news when she tweeted disparaging remarks about Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, posting to her account, "Just made mean comments at gov Brownback and told him he sucked" The student was called into the principal's office, reprimanded and asked to write the governor a formal apology. Sullivan refused, and Brownback later issued an apology for his staff "overreacting" to the Tweet. At least the Governor realized his staff was out of line.
Employers have started using Facebook and other social media outlets as a hiring (or not hiring) tool. A New York consulting firm has been accused of demanding access and passwords to an applicant’s Facebook account or he would lose the opportunity to work for their firm. This man was applying for a job for goodness sake and they were demanding his password. Guess what? He’s not working there. High school students are being told to be careful what they post on their social media websites because colleges and universities are “weeding out” applicants based on what they can find about them online. Students and applicants are taking measures to prevent cyber-snooping by using code or fake names so that they cannot be traced. School teachers all across the country are being monitored and forced to adhere to outrageous rules involving something that they do on their own time in their own homes.
Just how far can a school system (public or private), or employer go to monitor personal space? The First Amendment to the United States Constitution was written to protect our right to free speech. Holding onto that right it seems is difficult but necessary. Should threats be taken seriously? Yes, of course. Should students or employees be forced to remove personal posts or face punishment simply because someone does not agree or approve of something they posted? Absolutely not. Freedom is just that, freedom. Cyber snooping and bullying infringes on First Amendment rights and needs to be stopped.
Just because something you say or post offends someone does not give them the right to force you to take it down. As adults we may find it easier to reject this type of censorship, it is more difficult for young people. Open dialogue with our children is important ensuring that they do not fall prey to the threats from school officials who believe it is okay to monitor their every move. As the ALCU from the Minnesota case stated “children do not lose their first amendment rights when they walk through the classroom doors.”