By Brendan Hamme
When students at Glendale Unified School District learned through news reports last year that their Facebook and other social media accounts were being monitored by the district through a third-party company known as Geo Listening, students and parents were shocked, and so were we.
Many saw the monitoring as invading student privacy and chilling off-campus speech. In response, Assembly Member Mike Gatto, along with coauthors Assembly Member Lorena Gonzalez and Senator Ricardo Lara, introduced AB 1442, a bill imposing limitations on the monitoring of students' social media posts by school and district officials. The governor signed the bill today, providing much needed regulation of social media monitoring by schools.
The new law, on which the ACLU of California worked significantly and which goes into effect January 2015, will require that:
  • Districts, county offices of education and charter schools must first notify students and parents that they are considering adopting such a program and to allow for public comment at a regular board of education meeting or hearing.
  • Monitoring and collection of information on social media by school districts are restricted to only information that is directly relevant to school or pupil safety.
  • Districts must allow students to see exactly what information has been collected on them from social media and to correct or remove any of that information and otherwise mandates that the information be destroyed when the student turns 18 years old or is no longer enrolled at the district.
  • Districts give notice of the program to parents and guardians.
Importantly, AB 1442 also prohibits third parties from selling or sharing information with anybody other than the district or from using the information for any other purpose, and requires destruction of the information when the contract is complete, the student turns 18 years old or the student is no longer enrolled in the district.
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We urge students and their parents or guardians to be vigilant about their online privacy. If you oppose such monitoring, speak out at public meetings. If your school monitors your social media, ask for what information they are gathering and request its deletion. If the school refuses to provide the information or is gathering information that is not related to school or student safety, complain to the district and let us know about it.
Most importantly though, schools can only monitor information that is publicly available, so if you don't want your school monitoring what you say, make sure your social media accounts are set to private.
Brendan Hamme is staff attorney at the ACLU of Southern California. Follow ACLU SoCal on Twitter.