Arkansas Lawmakers Advance Social Media Privacy Bills

LITTLE ROCK — Arkansas employers and colleges would be prohibited from asking their employees or students to turn over passwords to personal social media accounts under a pair of bills that state lawmakers advanced Tuesday.

The House education and labor committees approved the two proposals, which would prohibit prospective and current employees and students from having to provide access to their personal social media accounts.

One of the measures would prohibit an employer from asking a current or prospective employee to provide access to his or her social media account or change the privacy settings on the account.

"In today's job market, people are willing to agree to just about anything to get hired, and we don't want to have employers tempted to use that bargaining position to require people to give up their privacy in order to get employment," said Rep. Nate Steel, D-Nashville, the bills' sponsor.

An employer would also not be allowed to initiate a "friend" or "connect" request with an employee on a social networking site. Employers would still be able to view information about their employees if it is publicly available on the Internet.

"We see examples where people are fired for what they put on public social media, but we can't do a whole lot about that," Steel said. "That's their own prerogative to put that out there for the world to see, and my bill doesn't prohibit that."

The second proposal would apply nearly identical rules to higher education institutions in Arkansas. Under that bill, a college or university would not be allowed to ask for access to the social media account of a student or prospective student.

A coach, professor or other college administrator wouldn't be able to initiate a "friend" request with a student or demand that the student to forge that online connection.

Both bills carve out exemptions for social media accounts maintained for business purposes or accounts that are created to impersonate someone else.

Six states — California, Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan and New Jersey— have laws that specifically preclude an employer or university from requesting social media account information from their employees or students, according to Pam Greenberg at the National Conference of State Legislatures. All of those laws were passed last year, and lawmakers in 32 states are weighing similar legislation this year.

The two Arkansas bills now head to the full House for a vote, which is expected later this week.

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