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California bill on social media privacy moves forward

June 26, 2012|By Michelle Maltais
(Dan Kitwood / Getty Images…)

California has inched forward in its efforts to protect your passwords for Facebook and other social networking sites from prying colleges and companies.

One of a pair of bills making their way through committees in the state Legislature was unanimously approved Tuesday by the Assembly Judiciary Committee. Senate Bill 1349 seeks to prohibit the practice at public and private California colleges and universities.

It reads: "A public or private postsecondary educational institution shall not require, or formally request in writing, a student or prospective student to disclose the user name or account password for a personal social media account or to otherwise provide the institution with access to any content of that account."

The bill, which has already been approved by the full Senate, moves on to the Assembly Higher Education Committee next week for consideration.

According to a Senate committee analysis, the state's public universities do not currently ask students for access to their social media accounts, though some private colleges request the information from student athletes to ensure they comply with National Collegiate Athletic Assn. rules.

Its companion bill, Assembly Bill 1844, covers the provisions for businesses and will be heard Wednesday in the Senate Labor and Industrial Relations Committee.

"I am pleased by today’s overwhelming vote to end this unacceptable invasion of personal privacy," the Senate bill's author, Sen. Leland Yee (D-San Francisco), said in a statement on Tuesday. "The practice of employers or colleges demanding social media passwords is entirely unnecessary and completely unrelated to someone’s performance or abilities."

Neither bill would would prevent colleges or prospective employers from checking social networking websites for information that's publicly available. Employers often use social media to screen applicants. To avoid exposing themselves to liability, the employers typically stop short of asking for private information, employment lawyers have said. 

At the federal level, a congressional committee is considering the Social Networking Online Protection Act (SNOPA), which would forbid employers from requiring job seekers or workers to hand over their social networking passwords as a condition of employment. 

Public and governmental outrage and concern were stirred up earlier this year after the Associated Press published a report about isolated instances of job applicants and student athletes being pressed by employers and coaches, respectively, for their access information as a condition for consideration and participation.

RELATED:

Asking job applicants for Facebook password, fair or legal?

Maryland bans employers from seeking social media passwords

SNOPA bill seeks to keep employers out of your private social network

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