Assembly Panel Approves Bills To Protect Social Media Privacy

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TRENTON — An Assembly panel on Thursday approved a package of bills sponsored by Assemblyman John Burzichelli and Assembly Majority Leader Louis Greenwald that would bar employers and colleges from requiring current or prospective employees or students to turn over their login information for social networking websites as a condition of employment or acceptance.

Approval of the legislation comes amidst growing reports of private businesses and higher education institutions demanding Facebook login information from job applicants.

“In this job market, especially, employers clearly have the upper hand. Demanding this information is akin to coercion when it might mean the difference between landing a job and not being able to put food on the table for your family,” said Burzichelli (D- Cumberland/Gloucester/Salem). “This is a huge invasion of privacy that takes ‘Big Brother’ to a whole new level. It’s really no different than asking someone to turn over a key to their house.”

Specifically, the first bill (A-2878) would prohibit an employer from requiring a current or prospective employee to provide or disclose any user name, password, or other means for accessing a personal account or service through an electronic communications device. Employers would also be prohibited from asking a current or prospective employee if they have an account or profile on a social networking website.

“This practice is highly invasive and also begs the question of where do you draw the line,” said Greenwald (D-Camden/Burlington). “If an employer or college claims they’re trying to gain a perspective on the applicant’s life, what’s to stop them from trying to require the login information for a spouse or parent? With the economy still struggling to gain traction, most people don’t have the luxury of standing up to a prospective employer and denying this type of request.”

Violations of the provisions of the bill would carry civil penalties up to $1,000 for the first violation and $2,500 for each subsequent violation.

Similarly, the second bill (A-2879) would prohibit a public or private institution of higher education in New Jersey from requiring a student or applicant to provide or disclose any user name, password or other means for accessing a personal account or service through an electronic communications device.

Both bills would also prohibit an employer or college or university from requiring a prospective employee or applicant to waive or limit any protection granted under the bill as a condition of applying for or receiving an offer of employment. The bills also prohibit retaliation or discrimination against an individual who might file a complaint or testify as part of an investigation into violations of the law.

The bill would also bar a public or private institution of higher education from prohibiting a student or applicant to participate in activities sanctioned by the institution of higher education, or in any other way discriminate or retaliate against a student or applicant, as a result of the student or applicant refusing to provide or disclose any user name, password, or other means for accessing a personal account or service through an electronic communications device.

The sponsors noted that the rise of social networking sites has made it more commonplace for employers to review publicly available Facebook profiles, Twitter accounts and other such sites, however they questioned the legality of demanding login information from applicants.

The bills were approved by the Assembly Consumer Affairs Committee and now await consideration by the full Assembly.


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