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Proposed Bill Would Protect College Students' Social Media Use

By Wendell Hutson | May 12, 2013 8:07am
 College student Christopher Erby, 20, uses a computer daily and said privacy is very important to him. 
College student Christopher Erby, 20, uses a computer daily and said privacy is very important to him.  
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DNAinfo/Wendell Hutson

CHICAGO — Social media has become a way of life for most people, especially college students like Charita Pruitt.

“Everyone is entitled to some level of privacy. Whether it’s your Facebook page or email. And it shouldn't matter if you’re a college student or not,” said the 20-year-old sophomore at Livingston College in Salisbury, N.C. “I really hope the governor signs this bill into law.

And Pruitt is among the number of students hoping Gov. Pat Quinn agrees with them that privacy exists - even when it comes to social media.

Quinn will soon decide whether or not to sign a bill prohibiting colleges and universities from requesting students’ social networking passwords or requiring students to give their schools access to their accounts. The bill passed the state Senate last week, and the House in March.

State Sen. Jacqueline Collins (D-Chicago), whose district includes the Auburn Gresham community, was the Senate sponsor, while state Rep. LaShawn Ford (D-Chicago) was the bill’s House sponsor. The bill now goes to Quinn for consideration.

"College students are adults and should be afforded the same privacy as adults," Collins said. "Privacy is something that should not be compromised and this bill ensures that when it comes to social media."

But Facebook is not the only social media college students are using.

"Me personally, I like Twitter. I use it a lot to network and communicate with my friends," said Garrett May, a sophomore at South Suburban Community College. "I could not imagine my school asking me to give up my password to my Twitter account and not having a leg to stand on to say no."

Pruitt, who lives in the Calumet Heights neighborhood on the South Side, thinks colleges already infringe too much on the rights of students.

"If you live on campus, the university has the right to come into your dorm room without your permission and I don't like that at all," explained Pruitt. "If I were living off campus in an apartment, the landlord couldn't just let himself into my place without my permission, but on campus it's a different story."

However, there are exceptions that would allow schools to request such sensitive information from students.

If a school suspects the student has broken school rules through the use of social media and has evidence to support their suspension, then they could require a student to furnish their password, explained Collins.

"And any information a student makes public on a (social media) site like Facebook is fair game for colleges and universities," said Collins. "But schools must notify students and parents of any policies pertaining to social media."

Not all schools have social media policies, so if the bill becomes law it would not affect some schools, such as DePaul University.

"There is no policy here of this type relating to students, nor would we foresee there being one," said Ryan Johnson, a spokesman for DePaul.

Even with safeguards, Garret May, who lives in the West Pullman community, said loopholes still exist in the bill.

"So, all the school has to say is that they suspect me of being a terrorist or plotting a flash mob and for that reason they could violate my constitutional right to privacy," he said.

Grant Klinzman, a spokesman for Quinn, said the governor has not yet decided if he will sign the bill.

"We will review the bill when it reaches the governor’s desk," Klinzman said.