California New Law on Social Media Surveillance

It is a new dawn in California as Governor Jerry Brown approved a host of the anti-spying and privacy bills. They include restrictions on paparazzis, a tight leash on revenge porn, enhancement of students’ privacy and a ban on unlawful collection of phone record by federal intelligence agencies.

The bills comes amid a privacy crisis in America, stirred by revelations of former NSA agent Edward Snowden. Leaked document by Snowden revealed massive violations of citizens’ privacy by intelligence agencies. Federal agencies have admitted to secretly correcting electronic data from the public in contravention with the privacy Laws.

Californians hailed the new bills, many saw them as a way of strengthening the existing privacy Laws and protecting consumers. “I commend Gov. Brown for recognizing that the National Security Agency’s massive and indiscriminate collecting of phone and electronic data on all Americans, including more than 38million Californians, is a threat to our liberty and freedom,” said Senator Ted Lieu.

Key among the approved bills, is a law compelling schools that monitor their students’ social media activities to discard all collected data. Such information should be discarded within a year of student reaching 18 years or after the student leaves the schools, whichever comes first. Schools are also required to notify parents on any ongoing monitoring program.

The law is brainchild of Assemblyman Mike Gatto, who introduced the legislation earlier in January 2014. Mr. Gatto aimed at regulating school monitoring programs, a rapidly growing culture in California. He termed the law as a major milestone in protecting the interests and privacy of children.

In January 2013, Glendale Unified officials with help of Geo Listening initiated a program aimed at monitory the social media activities of their students.  In the clandestine arrangement, Geo Listening was to analyze the students’ social media post in sites like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram without informing the parents.

The program was later expanded in August 2013 to include all Glendale’s 13,000 students across all its four high Schools and 3 middle schools. In support of the program, school official said the monitoring enabled then to intervene is extreme cases where the students were using drugs or engaging in anti-social activities with the likelihood of hurting others or themselves.

In the 2013/14 academic year, Geo Listening reported over 1400 cases of Glendale students discussing topics like drug abuse, bullying or suicide. More worrisome, 20 of the reports involved suicide, over 500 reports were tied to bullying and substances abuse, and a whopping 380 incidences of posted vulgar contents the web.

Monitoring students’ social media activities is not new in America. The case of a Florida girl who committed suicide after intense online bullying by her classmates sensitized schools on the need to monitor students’ online activities. However detractors of the monitoring programs hold that it is a violation of the free speech. Others are worried that such monitoring programs only create frosty relationships between students and the authority figures, in addition to crippling any effort to build trust.

Schools always find themselves is precarious position when it comes to monitoring students’. It is a difficult balancing act between the student’s free speech rights and need to protect them against the dangers on social media. For instance, in 2011 a federal court ruled that school officials had violated the constitution when they punished students for posting selfies on Facebook posing with rainbow-colored lollipops shaped like phalluses.

It is important to note that the bill does not prevent educators from monitoring their student’s social media activities. It only require schools to inform parents that their kids are being monitored. The bill also ensures that all data collected by the schools is discarded.  Assemblyman Gatta is optimistic that the legislation will open up discussions between parents and student regarding the dos and the don’ts of social media. The bill will also empower parents to decide on how to allocated school resources to monitoring programs.

Governor Brown also signed a bill that sought to expand State law on revenge porn, in which people in a romantic relationship post nude pictures of their partners to avenge a dispute or breakup. The porn Law also bans nude selfies, in which a person takes and uploads their nude photos.

The Law enables victims of revenge porn to sue for damages in civils courts. Other remedies to the victims include a restraining order to pull down all obscene the images from the Internet. According to Assemblyman Bob Wieckowski, the law makes it is easy for victims of revenge porn to sue their aggressors directly “…rather than having to argue in court on grounds of invasion of privacy.”

Another bill signed on the same day barred the snoopy activities of paparazzis’. The Law bans the use of aerial drones or other robotic equipment to collect videos, photos and audios of celebrities and others without their consent. In a separate bill, Assemblyman Richard Bloom sought to expand the definition of stalking to include lingering in someone’s home without a purpose. The bills also makes it illegal to interfere or intimidate someone entering or exiting a school, hospital or any other medical facility.

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California New Law on Social Media Surveillance

by Ali Qamar time to read: 3 min
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