State Leaders Work to Protect the Privacy of Employees' and Students' Social Media Accounts
Social media has changed the public's expectations of privacy, but a backlash has risen against employers' requests for access to current and potential employees' personal social media accounts. Schools have also faced similar controversies for attempting to exercise control over students' online behavior. Several state leaders from across the country have written legislation to address these concerns and ensure the privacy of personal social media accounts. The proposed bills protect, at a minimum, employees from having to turn over personal social media account information.
Social media has had a disruptive effect on expectations of privacy. From Facebook applications that automatically share what a person is reading online to friends uploading and tagging embarrassing photos, social media users have faced a series of privacy challenges that could leave them exposed.
- Undermining expectations of privacy—Users expect to be able to keep some parts of their profile private. Messages, for example, are intended to be private conversations. Accessing that person’s account not only violates an expectation of privacy, but it also exposes much of his or her friends’ personal information.
- Violating Facebook’s terms of service—Facebook’s terms of service intend each profile to be an accurate representation of the person who owns the account. Therefore, Facebook requires that each person who signs onto the service not share his or her username and password.
- Unintended liabilities—Employers and educational institutions open themselves up to a host of liabilities by having access to a person’s account. If a third party sees evidence of criminal activity on another person’s account, or if an employer learns the applicant is part of a protected class, they could be open to a series of legal obligations. Employers also may need to train third parties who review the accounts how to do so appropriately.
- California—In California, Assembly Bill 1844, introduced by Assembly Member Nora Campos, states that employers cannot require prospective employees to provide their private social media account password.6 Senate Bill 1349 applies only to public and independent postsecondary institutions. It would protect both students and employees from having to surrender their personal social media account information.7
- Illinois—House Bill 3782 and House Bill 5713 amend the Right to Privacy in the Workplace Act and focus on employers. It protects employees from having to disclose their personal social media account passwords.8
- Massachusetts—Rep. Cheryl Coakley-Rivera presented a bill on the Massachusetts docket that would prevent employers from demanding their employees’ social media account passwords.9
- Maryland—Maryland was the first state to pass legislation, House Bill 964 and Senate Bill 433, which was recently signed by Gov. Martin O’Malley. The legislation prohibits employers from requesting access to private social media accounts, but does not address higher education. Bills that addressed students’ accounts are either in committee or have been withdrawn from consideration.10
- Michigan—Michigan’s House Bill 5523 is broad in scope. It protects employees and prospective employees from being forced to release their social media access information to employers. It also protects students in both K-12 and higher education from having to release login credentials to schools.11
- Minnesota—The Minnesota legislature is reviewing three bills—House File 2963, House File 2982 and Senate File 2565—all focused on protecting employees or potential employees from being forced to provide access to their accounts as a condition of employment.12
- Missouri—A Missouri House committee is considering H.B. 2060, which would prevent employers from requesting login credentials from their employees.13
- New York— S.B. 6938 regulates employers, but it also specifically excludes the official social media accounts of the business or organization. Thus if an employee is tweeting from a company account, he or she could be required to surrender those credentials as a prerequisite for continued employment.14 A.B. 965415 and S.B. 683116 in New York also prohibit employers from requesting access to social media accounts.
- South Carolina—South Carolina has addressed this issue through House Bill 5105, which prohibits employers from asking for credentials to log in to a private social networking account and protects employees from retaliation if they do not provide access after a request.17
- Washington—Senate Bill 6637 would prohibit employers in the state from requesting their employees’ social media account access information.18