Access to Student Social Media Accounts Curtailed

Recent amendments to the Right to Privacy in the School Setting Act restrict access by schools to student social media accounts. Initially the Act gave schools the right to request or require a student to provide social media account passwords or other related account information when the school had reasonable cause to believe the account contained evidence of a disciplinary violation. Schools were required to provide notice to parents of this right. Our article regarding the then-new law can be found here.

The recent amendments to the Act restrict this right. Public Act 99-0460, which became effective on August 25, 2015, prohibits schools from requesting or requiring students to provide passwords or other account information for their social media accounts in any circumstance. Now, schools only may require a student “to cooperate in an investigation” if there is specific information about activity on the student’s social media account that violates a school disciplinary rule or policy. As part of the school’s investigation, a student may be required to “share the content that is reported in order to make a factual determination,” but the school no longer can request or require disclosure of passwords. Schools are required to provide notice to parents, and this notice must be published in the school’s disciplinary rules, policies, or handbook, or communicated to parents by similar means. The amendments to the Act also revised the rights of post-secondary institutions in obtaining student social media passwords.

All Illinois schools should take the necessary steps to provide parents the required notice under the amended law. Due to the timing of the recent amendments, which became effective just after the start of the school year for most schools, we recommend that schools provide notice to parents of the access that is now authorized under the amended Act. For districts and schools that have electronic versions of their student handbooks available online, we recommend that those handbooks be revised. In addition, districts and schools should proceed with revising discipline policies.

Please contact Vanessa Clohessy or Jennifer Mueller with your inquiries regarding this new law.

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