Just about everyone is looking at Facebook these days. Friends use it to find out what’s going on in their social circles. Employers use it to vet job candidates. Cyber criminals use it to collect information and design better targeted attacks. Social networking has created a flood of new privacy concerns, but at least one U.S. state is taking a proactive approach to mitigating those risks.Wall Street Journal blogger Sam Favate recently highlighted legislation in California that raises the bar on social media privacy. The new bill is designed to address concerns over the recent trend of employers asking for access to employees’ social media accounts, but it also protects employers. According to attorney Bradley Shear, California’s new law acts as a way to protect businesses from claims that they have a legal responsibility to monitor employee social networking accounts in order to protect sensitive data.
Although California is the first state to successfully pass such a comprehensive law, Favate noted that 15 other states have considered similar legislation, including Illinois and Maryland. A similar bill in Delaware was crafted to protect students’ social media privacy.
Social media privacy laws
A recent Bloomberg BNA article written by Michael Bologna highlighted legislation in Illinois, which was the second state to pass social media privacy legislation. The bill makes it illegal for employers to request personal identifiers for social media websites. The law protects individual privacy without prohibiting employers from using other information, such as data that resides in the public domain, to screen job candidates.
“I think this law is correct,” David Ritter, a partner with Chicago-based Neal, Gerber & Eisenberg, told BNA. “It really saves employers from themselves; prevents them from getting too close to information that is personal. My advice to clients is to just not ask for these things. There are cases out there that have found liability against employers for doing these kinds of things. There are passwords on these accounts because they are private.”
Ritter also said the law reflects widespread privacy concerns that have been expressed across the country. He predicted it won’t be too long before other states adopt similar legislation to protect personal information.
Has an employer ever asked you to share your social media information? How did you respond? Are there currently laws in your area to protect employee privacy?