The invasion of personal privacy through snooping, spying, and surveillance is a growing menace. And a major battleground increasingly involves the violation of personal communication through social media such as Facebook and Twitter.
Employers and public schools have been implicated in efforts not only to snoop into individuals' private communications, but even to take control over what they can say.
Now, a spotlight has been focused on this type of privacy abuse carried out by Texas universities. State Representative Dawnna Dukes, a Democrat representing a portion of the Austin area, is sponsoring legislation that at least places mild constraints on these kinds of abuses.
As reported in a Feb. 10th article by the Austin American-Statesman, Dukes's measure doesn't outright stop such privacy intrusions, but merely proposes to set some restraints — for example, limiting the power school administrators to require Texas students to relinquish to them their personal social media login and password details.
Monitoring by employers and universities is also a concern, and Dukes’s legislation would require such entities to clarify their social media regulations and the consequences for infractions. Those found in violation of the proposed law would be charged with a Class A misdemeanor, and could be assessed a fine of as much as $1,000.
The law would be similar to those in states such as California, Maryland, and Michigan, but given the domination of Texas's state government by a far-right majority with ties to the Tea Party, passing such protections, weak as they are, might be a daunting challenge.
Among Central Texas universities, the paper found that the University of Texas (UT) and Texas State University "actively monitor student-athletes on social media."
UT spokesman Gary Susswein told the paper “We’re not out there to prevent anyone from being engaged in social media, but we want to make sure they understand what’s going in social media and for them to be careful and to learn from their experience.”
At Lubbock's Texas Tech University in West Texas, some student-athletes are required to install software called UDiligence that warns players and coaches whenever "questionable language" is used on social media.
Proponents claim that only public communications are currently monitored, not private messages. However, there apparently is strong interest in extending such snooping even further.
Dukes seems OK with monitoring public postings, but argues that seeking access to private information and communications is a violation of First Amendment rights.
Jim Harrington, director of the Texas Civil Rights Project and a well-known attorney specializing in First Amendment issues, told the newspaper that neither employers nor schools have any business poking into private communications. He argued that the absence of legal protections opens the door to a wide variety of privacy abuse.
“It’s ironic that in Texas we have this history of rugged individualism", Harrington said, and the belief "that people should be able to live their lives the way they want to live them.... and then they have this intrusion going on.”