Social Media Privacy Laws

On May 22, 2014,  with  Governor Bobby Jindal’s signature, Louisiana  joined the ranks of states such as Wisconsin and Tennessee in barring employers and educational institutions from requesting or requiring personal social media account access with the “Personal Online Account Privacy Protection Act”( HB 340).

There are exceptions.  For example, under the bill employers are legally allowed to view social media accounts visible to the public.  If the account is not protected with privacy settings, it is fair game for employers to view and judge. The bill was sponsored by Baton Rouge Representative Ted James, who explained that the bill’s purpose was "not to promote student irresponsibility on social media but to protect their private information so they wouldn't be forced to provide access to their accounts." He was backed by the ACLU of Louisiana who released a statement saying “Anything we can do to enhance people's personal privacy is a good thing."

New Jersey passed similar legislation in December 2013, and fines employers $1,000 for the first offense, and $2,500 for each following offense.

There are still some grey areas to the social media waters. For example, Arkansas law permits employers and employees who wish to be Facebook friends by their own choice. An employee is not protected, however, if they post inappropriate content after willingly friending a boss. If a state currently has no law in place to protect employees’ or students’ social media privacy, they may invoke common-law privacy principles to protect their privacy rights.  

Currently 17 states have social media privacy laws.  Arkansas, California, Illinois, Louisiana, Michigan, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Tennessee, and Utah have laws that protect both employees and  students. Colorado, Maryland, Nevada, Oklahoma, and Washington only protect employees, while Delaware only protects students. Wisconsin protects employees, students, as well as renters from having to share their account information with their landlord.