California Law Addresses Social Media Privacy

California has a new law in affect this year that bars employers from forcing employees to hand over their social media passwords. Some companies have been asking for these passwords to keep tabs on employees.

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In California, companies cannot force their employees to hand over their social media passwords. Universities cannot do this for students either. It's the latest state to bar institutions from trying to keep tabs on their current or prospective workers.

NPR's Kirk Siegler reports.

KIRK SIEGLER, BYLINE: Now let's say you've cleared the first round of a job interview and you're trying to impress your potential new boss. She asks for your Facebook password. She just wants to check out some of your photos or that status update you wrote when you were tipsy on New Year's, you know, just to make sure you check out. No way, you'd say, right?

The problem is that if you really need a job, you may be inclined to turn over your personal digital or social media credentials.

Brad Shearer, a Washington DC-based social media and tech law attorney. He helped draft California's new social media privacy act. More and more people are living their lives online, and Shearer says laws like these are a win for the protection of privacy.

BRAD SHEARER: You have to ask this question: is it okay for your employer to be able to bug your home phone, or bug your home?

SIEGLER: But at the same time, Shearer says, employers shouldn't have to be responsible for what their employees do online. He says a new law in Michigan addresses this problem as well.

In total, six states now have some sort of social media privacy law; Michigan, California, Illinois, Delaware, New Jersey and Maryland. Expect more to follow suit in the coming year, even though this actually worries some electronic privacy advocates.

Kurt Opsahl is a senior staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation in San Francisco.

KURT OPSAHL: So I think there actually are a lot of dangers associated with legislatures trying to regulate technology with law. The better solution for all of this would be for employers to simply stop doing this, without the need for government intervention.

SIEGLER: Or, says Opsahl, a uniform, single set of rules for every state. The new Congress may consider federal legislation that attempts to do just that.

Kirk Siegler, NPR News.

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