Jan 22, 2015 · 1 minute

Authorities often struggle when it comes to handling digital issues. Responding to the Sony Pictures Entertainment hack has befuddled the federal government, law enforcement can't deal with online harassment, and prosecutors often over-react to digital mischief.

But the State of Illinois is determined to outdo all of them when it comes to foolish responses to online harassment. Schools in the state have warned parents that children who bully others on sites like Facebook can be forced to hand over the passwords to their social accounts.

The schools claim new laws allow them to demand access to social services even if the bullying takes place off-campus and outside of school hours. The result: a system which could let them force their way into some of the most private parts of a child's life.

That's a dramatic over-reaction to what is admittedly a very serious issue. There's no question that cyberbullying is becoming an increasing problem for many students, but the idea that compromising students' privacy is an appropriate response is just bonkers.

And it might force students to break not only the Terms of Service to which they agree when they sign up for a new service, but also federal laws. As the Michigan director of the American Civil Liberties Union, Kade Crockford, explained to Motherboard:

Crockford suggested that there's a good chance the Illinois law, or schools' implementation of it, is unconstitutional. She said that if cyberbullying is bad enough, there are already mechanisms to obtain Facebook messages—law enforcement can obtain a search warrant with a specific criminal complaint, for instance. Finally, the law may be in violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act—Facebook and other social media companies prohibit their users from sharing passwords with unauthorized people, she said.
I suppose there is one upside to all this: it will teach Illinois students the government's response to something heinous, whether that's schoolyard bullying or physical attacks, is usually going to involve the degradation of every shred of privacy they've ever sought.

[Photo by Kevin Krejci]