- Associated Press - Monday, March 7, 2016

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) - A bill that would have prohibited teachers and school officials from prying into students’ private personal social media accounts ultimately failed because it threatened the authority of teachers and administrators, the leading proponent of the proposal said.

“You have people that have authority and people seldom like to give up their authority,” Sen. Chris Rothfuss, D-Laramie, said.

The bill passed both the state Senate and House, but Rothfuss said changes in the measure made by the House proved too substantial to reconcile and the bill died on the final day of the Legislature last Friday.

Under the original bill, school district employees could not have required or asked a student to provide login information for access to private emails, text messages or other social media belonging to the student. School officials would have to ask parents first in order to gain access to a student’s private social media account or cellphone.

The bill, which evolved from an interim task force that studied digital privacy issues in the state, also sought to protect data that has identifying information about individual students.

The proposal drew sharp opposition from many school administrators and teachers who argued it would make it harder for them to keep schools and students safe, especially when quick action was needed to thwart potential violence.

Rep. Steve Harshman, a teacher and prep football coach who opposed the idea, said he never understood why the legislation was needed because he wasn’t aware of any school officials abusing their authority and browsing through students’ social media accounts and cellphone texts and contacts.

“Some of these things that come before us is a solution in search of a problem,” Harshman, R-Casper, said. “I kept asking that question: what problem are you trying to solve there? And I never could get an answer.”

Rothfuss, who is a member of the digital privacy task force, and other supporters countered that the bill would not jeopardize safety because any potential violent situation would have to involve law enforcement and they noted that access to a student’s social media account or cellphone could expose information about other people’s private emails, texts and postings.

The number of teachers and school administrators who testified against the bill far outnumbered those in support.

“Those people that didn’t want to give up their authority were well represented,” Rothfuss lamented. “On the other side, the people who would like more rights were 93,000 students of the state, K-12 students, and they were in school.”

Rothfuss said he’s not sure if the proposal will be brought back in the next legislative session, saying he would discuss the matter with other members of the digital privacy task force.

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