California First to Endorse Comprehensive Social Media Privacy Law

By Dina Abou Salem

Dec 27, 2012 3:50pm
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Starting Jan. 1, 2013, California will be the first state to enact comprehensive social media privacy legislation, officials say.

As he passed the act known as the Social Media Privacy Act on Sept. 27, California Gov. Jerry Brown posted on his Google+ page: ”Today I am signing Assembly Bill 1844 and Senate Bill 1349, which prohibit universities and employers from demanding your email and social media passwords. California pioneered the social media revolution. These laws protect Californians from unwarranted invasions of their social media accounts.”

Bill number SB 1349, authored by state Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco-San Mateo, provides protections for students and applicants at colleges and universities throughout California. And bill number AB 1844, authored by Assemblywoman Nora Campos, gives the same protections for employees and job applicants.

Some employers have demanded that job applicants provide passwords to their private Facebook accounts in order to seek more information, the Associated Press reported earlier this year.

“When AP broke a story about how violation of online privacy has become a trend nationally, we wanted to put an immediate stop to it and stop it from reaching to California,” Adam J. Keigwin, state Capitol-based chief of staff of Yee’s office, told ABCNews.com.

In May 2012, Maryland became the first state to pass social media legislation that protects employees’ digital privacy. In July 2012, Delaware enacted a similar legislation that protects college students and post-secondary schools. In August 2012, Illinois passed social media legislation similar to Maryland’s.

Bradley Shear, a Washington, D.C.-based attorney practicing social media and technology law, served as an adviser to California’s bills. He told ABCNews.com on Thursday that the states of New Jersey and Michigan will follow suit next year.

“This means that a total of six states will enact the social media privacy acts, with Michigan being the second after California to enact a comprehensive one,” said Shear.

“The practice of employers or colleges demanding social media passwords is entirely unnecessary and completely unrelated to someone’s performance or abilities,” said Yee in a news release issued by his office. “Today, California has declared that this is an unacceptable invasion of personal privacy.”

But Shear thought that there was more to these bills than issues of privacy.

“This is a win-win situation for all parties. People should understand that it is pro-privacy and pro-business because with access comes responsibility,” said Shear, adding that employers deciding to keep profit-generating employees while aware of their legally questionable acts can get in legal trouble.

“I would tell such employers, careful what you wish for,” Shear said.

Shear and Keigwin agreed that the bill should include future amendments to incorporate minors from high schools and K-12 levels.

“We want to involve parents in this bill and we want to make exemptions for official investigations that include harassment and bullying,” said Keigwin.

Violations of this legislation would incur penalties.

“The penalties are similar to any harassment or discrimination case, and people have the right of action,” said Keigwin.

Some California consumer advocacy groups welcomed the bills.

“SB 1349 is a significant step towards securing Californians’ constitutional right to privacy, both online and offline,” said Jon Fox, consumer advocate for the group CALPIRG, in a statement issued by Yee’s office.

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