Name: ______________________________________________ Per: _____ Date: ___________________
Technology & the Law
How does the Constitution—written 200 years before Facebook and texting—apply to the digital world?
By Stefanie Olsen
When the Founding Fathers sat down to write the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, they could never have imagined anything like
Now that technology has become such an integral part of everyday life—with teens often leading the way—the courts are struggling
with how to translate constitutional principles and protections for the digital world.
Among the issues the courts are grappling with are how the First Amendment right to free speech, the Fourth Amendment's protection
against "unreasonable search and seizures," and laws against harassment apply online.
Here's a look at one major issue about which the courts are trying to answer these types of questions.
The Issue: Do you have the right to express yourself online without fear of legal action?
The Background: The courts have said First Amendment rights do apply online, but those free-speech rights are subject to the same
limits as in person and in print. You can't defame, libel, or slander another person.*
What makes online speech trickier is the instant access to an enormous audience that the Web provides. Casual comments that were
once made to friends in person or on the phone are now permanently "published" on websites and social networks, making them easier
targets for legal action.
What the Courts Have Said: After Justin Kurtz, a 21-year-old college student in Kalamazoo, Michigan, had his car towed earlier this
year, he turned to Facebook to vent about his experience. However, the Facebook group he created, "Kalamazoo Residents against
T&J Towing," prompted a defamation lawsuit by the towing company, which is seeking $750,000 in damages. Kurtz says he did
nothing but tell the truth of his experience. The legal battle is ongoing.
Courts are also grappling with how much control schools can exert over their students' online speech.
In 2006, Pennsylvania high school senior Justin Layshock was suspended for creating an online parody of his principal, writing on a
fake MySpace profile that the principal was "too drunk to remember" his birthday. The resulting lawsuit against the school, Layshock
v. Hermitage School District, argued that the school, in punishing Layshock, had violated his right to freely express himself online. A
judge sided with Layshock, but the school has appealed. In other similar cases, including a separate case in Pennsylvania, the courts
have ruled that the schools were justified in punishing students for things they'd written online.
"Schools argue that the Internet changes everything, because it's available everywhere and they should be able to punish [students] as
if they were in school," says Vik Malchak, legal director of the A.C.L.U. in Pennsylvania. "But that would make principals censors of
What to Watch For: Free-speech lawyers say that the Layshock case could be among the first online free-speech cases to reach the
"The question is," says Malchak, "to what extent can school officials punish students for what they say off campus, especially what
they say on the Internet, typically from their home computers."
* To defame someone is to make a statement, often false, that damages their reputation; libel is the written form of defamation and slander is the
(The New York Times Upfront, Vol. 143, September 6, 2010)
Written Response – TOPIC: Should students be punished at school for inappropriate Facebook activity?
Write a MEL-Con paragraph that answers the question above. Your paragraph must contain the following:
1 Main Idea Sentence
2 Pieces of Evidence
2 Fully-Developed Links
1 Concluding Statement
1. Underline ever FANBOYS word in this passage.
2. Add commas where necessary. CIRCLE EVERY COMMA THAT YOU ADD. Do not add unnecessary commas!
3. Answer the question at the end of the paragraph.
When we moved to a new apartment on campus, my mom recommended that we hire movers but Shawn, my
roommate, said we could move ourselves more efficiently. He said that we would be not only much faster but also far
less expensive than a moving company. Neither my mother nor I was enthusiastic but Shawn’s mind was made up.
Shawn’s older brother agreed to help for he thought it was a great idea. Both Shawn and his brother lift weights and
they love to show off their muscles. Shawn rented a truck that was too small so we had to make several trips. We could
get the couch through neither the back door nor the front door of the new house; we got it wedged in the front door
and Shawn strained his back. On the second load, I slipped and the refrigerator fell on Shawn’s foot. Shawn’s enthusiasm
seemed to be disappearing yet he said his foot didn’t hurt much. Looking back and thinking about it, Shawn wished we
would have called a moving company but it all worked out in the end.
Which ONE comma rule relates to all of the commas that you added to this paragraph?
Pronoun-Antecedent Agreement Review
Directions: First, circle the antecedent. Then, on the blank line, write the pronoun that agrees with the antecedent.
1. The uniform company finally sent Bert and Ken the shirts that ______they_______ had ordered.
2. A person should always try ______________________ best.
3. Several of the volunteers contributed ______________________ own money.
4. Each of the candidates for student council president made ______________________ speech to the crowd.
5. Both of the girls packed ______________________ bags carefully.
6. Anyone can join this club if ______________________ is interested.