Sincerely, Aggie: Bill Protects Student Data

Agnessa Kasumyan, Managing Editor

Being a fairly private person with journalistic career aspirations, I generally keep personal or opinionated posts on social media sites to a minimum. My accounts are primarily used to network, share news stories, and spam my friends’ news feeds with photos of my adorable, twinkly-eyed niece. However, when remembering my pre-teen MySpace profile, I cringe at the sheer ridiculousness of my excessive, dramatic anime posts, angsty rants, and Evanescence-inspired selfies.

At one point or another in a social-media dominant life, people are bound to post something that will make them wince several months or years down the line — particularly continuously evolving teens who use outlets like Facebook and Twitter to establish a sense of individuality and identity.

Recently, State Assemblyman Mike Gatto’s bill, AB 1442, passed the Assembly Education Committee by a vote of 7-0. The bill would hinder school districts from indefinitely storing students’ personal data from social media sites, requiring the destruction of any collected data within a year of a student turning 18. Districts would also have to notify parents about information that is gathered on their children while giving students a chance to view anything that is collected on them.

Although school districts auditing students’ social media activities can serve as an effective way of monitoring bullying and possibly even prevent teen suicide, unrestraubed tracking of data is a violation of privacy, particularly if a student’s posts can be used to haunt them in the future as they apply for jobs or if their information and past posts are leaked. The mined data can include anything from photos and videos to opinions and statements, according to Gatto’s newsletter.

Students should actively exercise caution and refrain from posting anything too personal or extreme, such as nudes, inappropriate rants, or anything that compromises their privacy, security, and of course, self-respect. However, teens — like adults — are bound to make bad judgment calls now and again. As long as there is nothing criminal in nature, an underage student’s activities should not be kept or stored once they or of age or have graduated from their school district.

Modern generations face a challenge their predecessors may have only wondered about when reading dystopian novels, such as George Orwell’s “1984”. If potential employers or university admissions officers see a compromising status or post by someone who was only 16 years old at the time, it will reflect badly on them regardless of how old they were when they first made the post or how far they have grown and developed since then.

The tracking of students’ activities online only brings to mind the lack of privacy and security in a cyber-intensive age. When Edward Snowden’s NSA leaks took the world by storm, many felt permanently and unjustifiably violated, yet it reminded individuals across the globe that the law has yet to catch up with modern technology.

The Internet is a whole new terrain of untapped legal potential, a Wild West for hackers, data collectors, corporations, and government agencies as well as social media users and addicts.

Gatto’s bill marks an important milestone for Internet freedom and privacy. Although it doesn’t excuse inappropriate behavior by students, it does offer a chance to learn from their mistakes as teens without having to face further repercussions as adults — unless, of course, they never learn to monitor themselves.