Photo courtesy the N.C. ACLU
Although the Internet is at the center of national political debates about civil liberties, it seems as though authorities at every level, from school administrators through the federal government to countries across the globe, have only done more and more to crack down on them in recent years
, often in the name of national security or protecting kids from predators. On Wednesday, N.C. Rep. Duane Hall, D-Raleigh, and other legislators across the country announced an effort to reverse that trend and extend online privacy protections to students.
Hall’s legislation would prevent North Carolina students (in both public and private schools) from being forced to hand over passwords to their social media accounts. He introduced similar legislation in 2013—H.B. 864—for employees across the state; that passed the House 77–34, but died in the Senate’s Rules Committee. Hall is expected to introduce the new legislation when the General Assembly reconvenes in late April. (The INDY
was told that the actual legislation was not yet ready for dissemination.)
At one of many simultaneous press conferences organized by the local ACLU chapters of 16 different states plus the District of Columbia, Hall stressed the “national, bipartisan” nature of the push, namedropping Republican and Democratic legislators holding similar press conferences in Alabama, New Mexico, Michigan and West Virginia. “The bills across these states vary slightly,” Hall said, “but at issue is our ability to protect our most private thoughts and communications with our friends, families and loved ones.”
On Wednesday, TIME
published an op-ed by ACLU executive director Anthony D. Romero and Tenth Amendment Center executive director Michael Boldin explaining both the reasoning behind the push and the range of legislation introduced in states:
Americans from across the political spectrum have become increasingly outraged and outspoken as they have learned more about growing surveillance by governments and corporations.
At first, when the government began using our cell phones and car license plates to track our movements, there was no official announcement made. No one ever told us that our dreams, fears and aspirations are private only so long as we keep them to ourselves. Should we text or email those thoughts to anyone—even a spouse, friend or doctor—the government could easily access them.
No corporate CEOs have owned up to the fact that our personal data has become so valuable to their profit margins that their companies are willing to utilize every technological tool available in order to capture it, and that they will sell it to anyone willing to pay the price. And they certainly haven’t admitted that our children’s personal information is also valuable, and that the lengths taken to mine it include gaining access to records kept at their schools.
These covert intrusions and escalating erosions of our privacy will continue to worsen unless we choose to fight and resist them.
NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden tweeted his support of the ACLU’s effort
UNC law student Lindsie Trego, who was standing alongside Hall at the press conference, said that this bill will “prevent censorship and foster personal liberty. A bill like this will allow students to better control and protect their online data and protect the vibrant communities the serve as enclaves for free speech in today’s society.” In response to a question from a N.C. State student, state ACLU executive director Sarah Preston said that the new bill could also protect students’ email accounts.
Other states are looking at further-reaching bills, including ones that address police collection of data. Hall’s not ready to go that far, and says he wants to build upon his previous effort.
“[H.B. 846] already addressed a lot of issues, and it had strong bipartisan support,” Hall said. “That’s something we’d like to work on with a very similar bill again next time.”