Tuesday, September 27, 2011

University of North Carolina's Student-Athlete Social Media Policy May Be Unconstitutional

The University of North Carolina (UNC) recently updated its Department of Athletics Policy on Student-Athlete Social Networking and Media Use. It appears that UNC revised its student-athlete social media policy as part of its response to the NCAA Notice of Allegations (NOA) that alleged that it failed to monitor the social media activity of its student-athletes. According to an NCAA spokesman, the NCAA does not require its members to monitor the social media activity of its members; it only encourages schools to do so.

UNC's response to the NCAA NOA appears to agree with 8 of the 9 allegations. UNC appears to dispute the allegation that it failed to monitor the social media activity of its student-athletes. UNC's new student-athlete social media policy may have been created to try to mitigate some of the possible NCAA sanctions that may arise from this matter.

UNC is a public institution and therefore the 4th amendment of the U.S. Constitution applies and protects students from unreasonable searches and seizures by UNC. According to UNC's new social media policy, "Each team must identify at least one coach or administrator who is responsible for having access to and regularly monitoring the content of team members’ social networking sites and postings (“Team Monitor”). The Department of Athletics also reserves the right to have other staff members review and/or monitor student-athletes’ social networking sites and postings."

Students who participate in extracurricular activities have a diminished expectation of privacy compared to other students; however, that diminished expectation of privacy does not enable the state to access and monitor the private electronic content of student-athletes to ensure that there are no possible violations of the law, UNC policies, NCAA violations, etc... Students have a reasonable expectation of privacy for their non-public electronic communications. If UNC has a right to access the private social media posts of its student-athletes then what will stop UNC from claiming it has the right to access and monitor private email accounts, voice-mail messages, etc... and installing eavesdropping equipment into off-campus apartments?

Therefore, I believe UNC's new social media policy may violate the 1st, 4th, and 14th Amendments of the U.S. Constitution. I urge UNC to revise its new student-athlete social media policy before UNC has to utilize resources defending an unconstitutional policy that may create mistrust between its student-athletes and the university and tremendous legal liability issues.

To learn more about these issues you may contact me at www.shearlaw.com.

Copyright 2011 by the Law Office of Bradley S. Shear, LLC. All rights reserved.