Do you think college students should have to give their school access to their social media accounts? Neither does the state of Michigan. Isn’t it kind of amazing that this even came up?

Joseph Cohn of the FIRE reports.

A Legislative Victory for Student Rights in Michigan

On December 28, 2012, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder signed into law the state’s new Internet Privacy Protection Act (IPPA), prohibiting employers and educational institutions in the Great Lakes State from demanding that employees and students provide them with access to personal Internet and social media accounts.

Michigan joins Delaware, New Jersey, and California as the fourth state in the U.S. to enact legislation protecting students’ right to privacy online. Maryland and Illinois have similar laws that apply in the employment context, but not in the context of higher education.

With a few notable exceptions, Michigan’s IPPA bans educational institutions from requesting that students or prospective students grant the institution access to “personal internet accounts,” like Facebook, MySpace, private email accounts, and Twitter. This prohibition forbids universities from requiring disclosure of passwords, or from requiring that they be permitted to monitor those accounts. The new law also prohibits educational institutions from “Expel[ling], disciplin[ing], fail[ing] to admit, or otherwise penaliz[ing]” those who fail to grant access to their personal Internet accounts.

Violators of this law are guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by a $1,000 fine. Plus, the IPPA allows students or prospective students to sue universities for up to $1,000 and reasonable attorneys’ fees for violations of this law. A thousand bucks might not be much, but attorneys’ fees can add up. Hopefully, a misdemeanor charge and the threat of paying attorneys’ fees will give this law sufficient teeth.