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What the Rocklin teen arrests for cyber threat hoax teach us about civil liberty

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On July 1st charges of terrorist threats pending against four Rocklin teens linked to a social media school shooting threat on the eve of high school graduation in May were dropped. Unfortunately recent history gives us cause to take every threat seriously as school shootings like Columbine, Newtown, Virginia Tech, and most recently Santa Barbara come to mind. One of the suspect’s father was quoted in this report saying that the digital landscape children navigate leave “no room for mistakes.” His son reportedly lost a college scholarship and they paid thousands of dollars to defend him.

Understanding citizenship on and off-line. There are some civic lessons associated with responsible use of cyber connectivity that parents can reinforce at home.

Rights are accompanied by responsibilities. Civil rights are not the same thing as entitlements. Rights must be exercised responsibly, or they will be surrendered; and by the same token individuals must live with the consequences of exercising their rights. Children need to learn that free speech if not exercised responsibly can have serious consequences. It is not okay to yell fire in a crowded theatre, nor start an on-line rumor that someone is threatening to commit a school shooting.

Cyber limits and the law. Every law enforcement representative interviewed has consistently expressed how personal security and keeping the peace is largely a factor of our ability to self-govern as individuals and as a community. A generation ago it was a more simple matter. Parents were “the law”.

Children caught doing stupid things that were illegal, such as vandalism, burglary or experimenting with drugs and alcohol would be turned over to their parents because there was an expectation that appropriate consequences would be imposed to correct their conduct. Today, explaining away immoral or unlawful conduct has become more commonplace and as a result we (society) have zero tolerance law enforcement on campus and in the community at large. So let us not confuse civil liberties with absence of law.

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