Delaware State Senate Unanimously Votes To Protect Students’ Social Media Privacy

Have you heard of the most recent issues with employers tampering with social media profiles? Reports have trickled out of job interviews that employers—not just private employers, but also government agencies—are asking potential hires to give them their username and password to their social media profiles, including Facebook, Twitter, and many others. The ACLU put a stop to these practices late last year, but employers are still asking that users log in and let recruiters peer over their shoulder for a “social media review.”

Universities are also hopping in on the privacy invasion bandwagon: for instance, student athletes are often required to add their supervisors and coaches as Facebook friends to give their university full access to all of their social media activity. These are clearly privacy violations, and we may have had a precedent-setting decision in Delaware over this past weekend.

HB 309: A “New Approach” To Privacy Protection

At the end of a long legislative session on the night of July 2nd, the Delaware state senate passed a bill with a unanimous vote of 21-0 that protects primary education students’ social media privacy. House Bill 309 officially denies all primary education schools, public and private, from requiring that students surrender their social networking account information to school officials. The bill also denies schools the authority to ask a student to log in to their social media accounts to provide officials with an “over-the-shoulder” view into their private accounts.

The bill (found here) opens with a very clear need: online rights such as social networking account information are not protected under any current laws. The bill makes it clear that no forms of currently known privacy breaches, like what we’ve heard about in the media, are allowed by law, and that this will change and evolve to grant new protections in the future. The closing acknowledges that current laws have to keep up with the changing times, and that advances in social m edia and internet services require “new approaches to protecting reasonable expectations of privacy.”

Setting The Standard For Future Legislation

Even though Delaware House Bill 309 only applies to K-12 students in their state, this bill joins a few other states as the first to directly acknowledge recent reports of social media privacy invasions from employers and universities. These stories of recruiters demanding usernames and passwords for “full disclosure” or a “background check” have trickled out across the nation since the latter part of 2011. It’s fairly easy to see how this is considered a violation of privacy: these accounts are personal information, and someone’s username and password is specifically designed to restrict access for privacy reasons.

HB 309 still has to travel to the governor’s desk for the final approval. After the unanimous Senate vote, the bill passed through the state congress. In Maryland, a similar social media privacy protection bill was signed into law just this past May; and Illinois currently has a similar bill waiting for the governor’s signature. California’s AB 1844, a similar social media privacy bill protecting students, will soon be sent to its state Senate for consideration. Delaware House Bill 308, which imposes similar restrictions on employers, is still under dispute by state lawmakers.

Policy makers and attorneys hope that these few state-level bills will bring awareness to social media privacy violations and encourage the federal government to move on SNOPA, the Social Networking Online Protection Act, which would bar employers from requesting social media account access as part of a potential hire’s review process.

Comprehensive Internet Privacy Reform

As these proposed laws move forward, social media may be defined less as a public display and more as a private action. Social media and the law have butted heads recently, and will continue to do so as lawmakers and policy deciders determine what does and doesn’t constitute online privacy. This past Monday, for instance, a Manhattan court demanded that Twitter, the popular microblogging service, hand over 3 months of an Occupy Wall Street protestor’s tweets.

It seems that as the law evolves and expands to include all of the internet’s diverse services and functions, various privacy protections will have to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. HB 309 and others like it are setting a positive example for other states and the federal government by starting with necessary, all-encompassing protections for children. With these in place, lawmakers can draft the framework for wider protections that ensure social networking doesn’t get in the way of the hiring process—a crucial benefit at a time when unemployment rates continue to soar.

I’m just glad I haven’t had an employer ever demand that I hand over my social networking credentials. Have you? Know anyone that has? Let us know—we’re curious as to just how prevalent a problem this is!

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Andrew Glasscock is currently based in Nashville, Tennessee. He graduated with a BA in English, specialized in Creative Writing, with a minor in Marketing this past May. Along with copywriting, he loves being an improv comedian, playing frisbee, and dogs.

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