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School forces students to reveal Facebook activity, unlock smartphones

By Stephen C. Webster
Friday, May 18, 2012 10:01 EDT
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The social media network Facebook. Photo: Pan Xunbin / Shutterstock.com.
 
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A middle school outside Chicago has one mom on a privacy rampage after her daughter claimed administrators forced her to log into her Facebook page so they could inspect her online social activities.

This mom’s rampage has now taken her all the way to the front page of MSNBC.com, where she claims that school officials have told her they commonly inspect social media and even have students unlock their smartphones, all in the name of protecting the educational environment.

In a student handbook (PDF) distributed by Geneva Middle School South in Geneva, Ill., page 10 describes “temporary records” that the school may gather, with the top item being a student’s “social history.” Parents are allowed to see and copy any information kept on file about students, the handbook notes.

But that’s not enough say-so for Pam Broviak, who said a forced search of her daughter’s Facebook left her “embarrassed and very upset.”

School officials admitted to MSNBC that while they never ask for passwords, officials do require students to reveal privately kept social media information themselves or deal with the consequences of a phone call to their parents.

“There are different levels of concern,” Kent Mutchler, the school superindendent in Geneva, told MSNBC. “If there is a drug trafficking suspicion, we’ll get the police involved. If it’s something like cyberbullying, we’ll say, ‘This has been reported to us,’ and ask to see the page.”

He added that administration only delves into students’ social media accounts “a half-dozen to a dozen times per year.”

Even that, however, is against Facebook’s terms of use.

“This practice undermines the privacy expectations and the security of both the user and the user’s friends,” Facebook privacy chief Erin Egan said in March. “If you are a Facebook user, you should never have to share your password, let anyone access your account, or do anything that might jeopardize the security of your account or violate the privacy of your friends.”

Facebook also offers tools for educators who receive reports from their students about abuse on the network. The company claims it has seen a “distressing increase” in individuals being forced to reveal their private social media activity in recent years, although mostly by employers, but also some schools.

The American Civil Liberties Union is currently pursuing a landmark case against the Maryland Department of Corrections for that very reason, after a job applicant was ordered to hand over his Facebook password. The rights group called it “a frightening and illegal invasion of privacy.”
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Photo: Pan Xunbin / Shutterstock.com.

Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster is the senior editor of Raw Story, and is based out of Austin, Texas. He previously worked as the associate editor of The Lone Star Iconoclast in Crawford, Texas, where he covered state politics and the peace movement’s resurgence at the start of the Iraq war. Webster has also contributed to publications such as True/Slant, Austin Monthly, The Dallas Business Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Weekly, The News Connection and others. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenCWebster.
 
 
 
 
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