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November 12. 2012 9:31PM

Students debate privacy, access to social media in Constitution Day essays

CONCORD - Writing that Constitutional protections against unwarranted searches should be extended to private employers, Reid Zuckerman, a senior at John Stark Regional High School in Weare, won the New Hampshire Constitution Day Essay Contest in the high school category.

Benjamin Swain of Nashua's Fairgrounds Middle School won the middle school category.

Zuckerman, who was sponsored by the New Hampshire Union Leader, and Swain will be honored at a reception on Nov. 20 at the state Supreme Court, along with 14 statewide finalists sponsored by nine newspapers.

In 2004, Congress declared that "Constitution Day" should be observed in schools each year on Sept. 17 with programs about the history of the Constitution. The New Hampshire contest, for middle and high school students, is held as part of the Constitution Day observance. More than 500 students submitted essays this year, according to a release from the New Hampshire Supreme Court, which chose the statewide winners.

Students were asked to write about whether they believe the Constitution bans potential employers or school officials from requiring job seekers or students to provide passwords to their social media accounts, such as Facebook or Twitter.

In his essay submitted to the Union Leader, Zuckerman, of Henniker, wrote that there are different standards for employers and school officials. Employers, he wrote, are not government officials, so are not banned from requiring passwords. He thinks they should be.

"Years ago, no one would have allowed an employer to demand that a potential employee hand over letters he had received and sent," Reid wrote. "The same principle should apply to social media today."

Zuckerman said he believes the Constitution does allow school officials to demand social media information if a student is using it in a way that endangers the learning environment.

Swain, who submitted his essay to The Telegraph in Nashua, wrote that based on his research, information posted on social media sites and access to passwords by schools or employers are not private.

"The U.S. Constitution does not protect students from their schools, or employees from their employers, when it comes to accessing social media accounts," he wrote. But, he said, schools and employers could violate social media site terms or federal law, depending on how they use the password of a student or job seeker, or certain information they might uncover, such as race, religion and age.

He suggested privacy laws be updated to keep pace with technology and public opinion. "State and federal government need to recognize changes are needed in order to protect the rights of each citizen," he wrote.


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