Pupils, passwords and privacy. A law that went into effect on January1st has the parents of some Illinois school children asking themselves how much of their children’s privacy they’re willing to forgo to keep cyberbullying in check. The new Prairie State law requires students to surrender their social-media-site passwords to school officials if—according to a letter notifying one school’s parents of the possibility—“school authorities have reasonable cause to believe that a student’s account on a social networking website contains evidence that a student has violated a school disciplinary rule or procedure.” It doesn’t matter whether the suspicious social media posts were made on or off school property, or whether they were made using a private computer or a school computer. Some parents think the law goes too far, asserting that allowing school officials to look at a student’s social media account—as opposed to allowing them unlimited access to it—would likely be enough to squelch cyberbullying.
High profile. The Justice Department will pay $134,000 to Sondra Arquiett to settle her suit alleging that the Drug Enforcement Administration caused her “fear and emotional distress” when, as we reported in October, the agency created a phony Facebook page in her name without her permission in an effort to ensnare participants in a drug ring. When the DEA set up the page, Arquiette had been sentenced to probation for her relatively small role in the criminal activity. DEA agents used pictures from her seized cellphone to set up the Facebook profile, which featured photos of Arquiette’s family members and of Arquiette herself, in one instance wearing only a bra and underwear. The terms of the settlement do not require the DEA to admit that its actions were wrong or assure the public that it will refrain from employing similar tactics in the future.
Fired over Facebook. The U.S Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit has affirmed a federal district court’s ruling that a police department in Greenville, Mississippi was justified when it fired police officer Susan Graziosi over a series of public Facebook posts criticizing her police chief for failing to send a representative to the funeral of a fellow officer. As we discussed last year, the federal district court that first heard the case held that Sergeant Graziosi’s Facebook posts weren’t made in her capacity as a “private citizen” speaking out on a matter of “public concern.” The social media posts, therefore, did not meet the threshold requirement established by Pickering v. Board of Education for prohibiting government employers from firing employees based on their speech. The Fifth Circuit disagreed with the district court’s holding that Sergeant Graziosi was not speaking as a private citizen when she drafted the posts on Facebook “because it is undisputed that making these statements was not within the ordinary scope of Graziosi’s duties as a police office.” The Fifth Circuit did, however, agree with the district court’s holding regarding the second part of the Pickering test: whether Sergeant Graziosi’s speech addressed a matter of public concern. Her Facebook posts did not address a matter of public concern, the Fifth Circuit held, because they qualified as a rant “akin to an internal grievance, the content of which is not entitled to First Amendment protection.” Sergeant Graziosi’s Facebook posts therefore were not entitled to the protection established by Pickering because they failed to satisfy both prongs of the Pickering test.