ACLU Publishes First-Ever Guide to Rights in the Digital Age for Students in Washington

News Release: 
Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Can a public school limit what students do online? Must students give administrators access to their private text messages, photos, e-mails, and contacts on their cell phones? Do students need permission to videotape other students or teachers at school?

Answering these and many other questions, the ACLU of Washington has published the first-ever guidebook laying out the legal rights of public school students in using electronic communications devices. Student Rights and Responsibilities in the Digital Age responds to a wide spectrum of issues that are arising as students express themselves via cell phone calls, text messages, blogs, chat rooms, Facebook, Twitter, and a host of other new avenues.

The guidebook provides information about legal rights online, as well as the limits to those rights. “Students have free speech and privacy rights that our schools must recognize and respect.  At the same time, students have to follow reasonable rules so that school is a safe, welcoming place where all students can learn,” said Brian Alseth, ACLU-WA Technology and Liberty Program Director.

Major sections of the booklet address Technology and Free Speech, Recording People at School, Searches at School, and – of course – What To Do If You Think Your School Has Violated Your Rights. Some of the cutting-edge legal issues it examines include use of social networks, location tracking devices, sexting, and cyberbullying.

The ACLU-WA has long been a leader in ensuring that traditional protections for student free speech are extended into cyberspace. A decade ago we won landmark rulings in both federal and state court on behalf of students whom administrators wrongfully tried to discipline for satirical postings on websites which the students created on their own time, on their computers at home.

The publication is available online in the Resources section of our website at There you can also find our other publications on rights at school, notably Know Your Rights: A Guide for Public School Students in Washington.