Social media privacy legislation introduced in both chambers
STATE HOUSE – From one end of the nation to the other, state legislators are taking up legislation to protect workers and students from intrusion by employers and schools into their personal social networking accounts.
“As more and more people use social media sites, it becomes even more important that we have laws in place to ensure their privacy and prevent outside parties – such as employers and universities – from requiring access to that personal information,” said Rep. Brian Patrick Kennedy (D-Dist. 38, Hopkinton, Westerly).
“The term ‘social media’ does not mean everything associated with a person’s online presence is automatically public, and it is not a license for an employer or school to pry into private material,” said Senate Majority Dominick J. Ruggerio (D-Dist. 4, Providence, North Providence).
Senator Ruggerio and Representative Kennedy have again this year introduced the “Social Media Privacy Act,” legislation that would establish two new chapters of state law, one covering student social media privacy and the other covering employee social media privacy.
Among the proposed provisions of the legislation:
No educational institution can require, coerce or request a student or prospective student to disclose the password or any other means of accessing a personal social media account, or to access an account in the presence of the institution’s employee or representative or to divulge any personal account information.
No educational institution could compel a student or prospective student, as a condition of acceptance, to add anyone (coach, teacher, administrator or other school employee or volunteer) to their list of contacts associated with a personal social media account
No educational institution could discharge, discipline or otherwise penalize a student for refusing to disclose social media information.
Similarly, no employer can require, coerce or request an employee or applicant to disclose the password or any other means of accessing a personal social media account, or to access an account in the presence of the institution’s employee or representative or to divulge any personal account information.
No employer could compel an employee or applicant, to divulge any personal social media account information except when reasonably believed to be relevant to an investigation of allegations of employee misconduct or workplace-related violation of applicable laws and regulations.
No educational institution could discharge, discipline or otherwise penalize an employee or refuse to hire an application for refusing to disclose social media information.
“This legislation is not giving anyone a right to privacy over the parts of social media that are unsecured, but there is a distinct line between readily accessible portions of social media pages and other information, such as passwords and one-on-one communication, that an individual does not intend to be widely shared or made public,” said Representative Kennedy, who chairs the House Committee on Corporations.
“We need to spell out that that right to privacy is very clear in our laws, especially today, when there are concerns that an individual’s privacy may be more and more under attack,” said Representative Kennedy. “If social media accounts have information or postings that an individual has created to remain private, then this information should remain private as the user meant it to be and only read or seen by those individuals the user intended.”
“Even in an age of rampant social media and instant access to most everything, individuals have a right to share their personal thoughts with whom they choose,” said Majority Leader Ruggerio. “There must be a presumption of privacy in certain areas of social media interaction, and account holders – whether students applying to a new school or job applicants – should not be threatened or coerced into providing certain private information. This legislation reaffirms that as an individual’s right.”
The Kennedy bill, 2014-H 7124, has been referred to the House Committee on Judiciary. Among the co-sponsors are Rep. Edith H. Ajello (D-Dist. 1, Providence), Rep. Eileen S. Naughton (D-Dist. 21, Warwick), Rep. Elaine A. Coderre (D-Dist. 60, Pawtucket) and Rep. William San Bento Jr. (D-Dist. 58, Pawtucket).
The Ruggerio bill, 2014-S 2095, has been referred to the Senate Committee on Judiciary and is co-sponsored by Sen. Joshua Miller (D-Dist. 28, Cranston, Providence), Sen. Erin P. Lynch (D-Dist. 31, Warwick, Cranston), Sen. Paul V. Jabour (D-Dist. 5, Providence) and Sen. Adam J. Satchell (D-Dist. 9, West Warwick).
Among the states that have acted on or where social media bills are under legislative consideration are California, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nebraska, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, and, in New England, Maine, Massachusetts and New Hampshire.
For more information, contact:
Randall T. Szyba, Publicist
State House Room 20
Providence, RI 02903