Saturday, March 10, 2012

Minnesota School District Sued For Violating the Social Media Privacy Rights Of A Student

A Minnesota school district has allegedly violated the social media privacy rights of one of its students. According to an American Civil Liberties Union press release: "the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota filed a lawsuit in Federal District Court against Minnewaska Area Schools and the Pope County Sheriff's office for violating the constitutional rights of a minor student."

The ACLU states, "In early 2011 R.S. posted a comment, while at home, on her Facebook page about her dislike of a school staff member. The school learned about the comment, and R.S. received a detention and was forced to write an apology to the staff member. She was disciplined again when she cursed on her Facebook page, complaining that someone reported her to the school. This time she was given an in-school suspension and was prohibited from attending a school field trip. The ACLU-MN contends that these sanctions violate her First Amendment right to freedom of speech. In a second incident R.S. was brought into a school administrator's office where she was coerced to turn over (against her will) login information to her Facebook and email accounts because of allegations that she had online conversations about sex with another student off-campus. Present at the search was a local deputy along with two school officials."

I find it very troubling that school officials and a local deputy would believe that it is constitutional to require a student to provide them her user name and password of a personal electronic account. If a student is forced to turn over her password to a social media account without a court order what will stop a school from requiring a student to turn over a personal email password and user name without a court order? This behavior is a clear 1st and 4th Amendment and possibly a 5th Amendment violation of the U.S. Constitution.

This behavior is not limited to violating the privacy rights of middle schoolers. According to an MSNBC report, employers and universities across the country are violating the privacy rights employees, students, and applicants.

There may be some situations where requiring access to personal password protected electronic content may be necessary. For example, some high security clearance jobs, some national security positions, and some regulated industries have invasive background checks. However, in the overwhelming majority of positions, there should be protection against requiring access to password protected electronic content. With access comes responsibility, so employers and schools that demand this information may open themselves up to unforeseen legal liability and may create new legal duties where none existed before. Therefore, why risk a multi-million dollar lawsuit and judgement?

To learn more about these issues you may contact me at

Copyright 2012 by the Law Office of Bradley S. Shear, LLC. All rights reserved.


  1. doing a forth amendment rights essay on this story, thanks for the artical and your opinion. not enough reputable people are talking about this injustice.

  2. Thank you. I hope my work leads to the passage of national legislation to stop these practices.