Staff Editorial: Privacy vs. Safety

Privacy comes first

Until recently, many of us felt that we had places where we were less vulnerable to the debilitating grip of school policy, such as social media. On social media, we were able to complain about the school or post things that wouldn’t be as apropos in a school setting. It was considered more private because our social media is held in domain that is supposedly out of the school’s reach.

However, as of Jan. 1 this year, Illinois has enacted the Public Act 098-0129 which says schools can require a student to provide passwords or other information to get access to their social networking accounts if the school has reasonable cause to suspect a student of violating a disciplinary rule or policy, mostly to help combat cyber bullying. DGN already had this policy in place, as detailed by the “Social Network” policy on page 34 of the student handbook.
“Suspect” would essentially equate to a “fishing expedition” in the legal world. With only reasonable suspicion, a teacher could hypothetically demand access to a social media account in bullying evidence one thing and then hold anything else found against the student.

If we refuse to give access to our accounts it’s “Insubordination,” covered on Student Handbook page 69, and comes with a myriad of possible punishments.

At the end of the day, admin is concerned about student safety. However, DGN has other measures in place to prevent cyber bullying and online harassment that these laws are meant to prevent.

Thus, it should not be the right of a staff member to violate private information held outside of the physical belongings of the person in the pursuit of information that may or may not actually exist.

We want a more specific policy as to how admissible any ulterior things found in social media are. Students need to feel safe with belongings that aren’t even on school property. If the school wants to search our social media for evidence of wrongdoing, they certainly should have more cause than “suspicion”— only then can students feel truly safe and secure in and outside of DGN.

Safety before sensitivity

Over half of all high school aged teens have experienced cyber bullying and 20 percent experience it daily, according to the Cyber Bullying Research Center in Britain.

The institution of Illinois Public Act 098-0129 is not an invasion of privacy, but rather a tool to protect students from cyber bullying and ensure the safety of students in the school environment.

The idea of administration snooping through your Twitter DMs is off putting and seems almost unnecessary, but it’s important to remember that no social media account can be seized without reasonable suspicion, meaning administration must have some grounds for believing school policy has been broken. This 30 year old standard also applies to administration searching students’ lockers, cars, and other belongings; all are searches that act on the same motive as searching social media: school safety. An administrator who uses this act solely to creep on your personal life is acting outside of the law—a gross misconduct of the individual not the act.

Without this act, teachers and administration are left defenseless in the face of the new age of technology. Bullying has moved to the web, so administration should have every tool possible to ensure the safety of its students.

In the same way that guns and knives must stay at home, students who feel it’s necessary to hold on to social media content that breaks school policy have to start keeping any material they don’t want their Deans seeing on their home computers. If that means those explicit photos you have been holding onto for two years have to vacate your Facebook messenger, so be it.

At the end of the day, it’s important to remember that this act was not passed as a malicious conspiracy to suck down every last ounce of your freedom, but instead to create a space where all of us can coexist and learn peacefully without threat, intimidation, or hostility.