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Calif. law passed to halt employer snooping on social media

Calif. Gov. Jerry Brown signs a privacy bill making it illegal for employers to demand employee usernames and passwords for social media accounts.

Dara Kerr Former senior reporter
Dara Kerr was a senior reporter for CNET covering the on-demand economy and tech culture. She grew up in Colorado, went to school in New York City and can never remember how to pronounce gif.
Dara Kerr
2 min read
California Governor Jerry Brown.

Calif. Gov. Jerry Brown took to social media today to announce that he signed two privacy laws protecting employees and students from bosses and universities wanting to snoop on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media accounts.

"Today I am signing Assembly Bill 1844 and Senate Bill 1349, which prohibit universities and employers from demanding your email and social media passwords," he wrote in a Facebook post. "California pioneered the social media revolution. These laws protect Californians from unwarranted invasions of their social media accounts."

AB 1844 was designed to prohibit employers from requiring an employee or job applicant to provide their username and password for social media accounts. Assemblymember Nora Campos, who authored the bill, called AB 1844 a "preemptive measure" that will offer guidelines to the accessibility of private information behind what she calls the "social media wall."

It's unclear how many employers have actually demanded access to workers' online accounts, but some cases have surfaced publicly and inspired lively debate. In one instance in April, a teacher's aide in Michigan was suspended after refusing to provide access to her Facebook account to the school's superintendent following complaints over a picture she posted.

According to Campos' office, more than 100 cases currently before the National Labor Relations Board involve employer workplace policies around social media. Facebook has also said it has experienced an increase in reports of employers seeking to gain "inappropriate access" to people's Facebook profiles or private information.

SB 1349 is a companion bill to AB 1844 and focuses on prohibiting colleges and universities from demanding social media usernames and passwords from students and prospective students. State Sen. Leland Yee wrote this bill.

A similar federal bill is bouncing around Washington, called the Password Protection Act Of 2012. This bill also seeks to halt employers from requesting passwords or access to an employee's account on Facebook and other social networks. If passed, it would also prohibit employers from discriminating or retaliating against a prospective or current employee should that employee refuse to provide access to a password-protected account.