California, home to many of the world's social media companies, now has the nation's strictest privacy laws preventing your boss or college from surfing through the personal information you post on sites like Facebook.
It will be illegal for companies or universities to ask for access to your personal social media or email accounts under two bills signed Thursday by Gov. Jerry Brown.
"The Golden State is pioneering the social media revolution, and these laws will protect all Californians from unwarranted invasions of their personal social media accounts," Brown said in a statement.
Recent accounts of employers asking for personal passwords or requiring applicants to open their Facebook pages during interviews sparked the new laws.
Companies and universities are increasingly trying to keep tabs on workers and students -- and vet prospective hires and admissions -- by monitoring their personal pages like Twitter and Google (GOOG)+ to see if they've posted anything like drunk photos or insensitive comments. But many people block public access to these posts through privacy settings.
Then in March, details of Maryland correctional officials asking for
access to job applicants' personal Facebook accounts led to similar stories around the nation. Some people said they were turned down for jobs after refusing to give employers their social media information, prompting lawmakers around the nation to propose bills banning the practice.
"No boss should be able to ask for this kind of personal information," said state Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, who wrote the California bill banning schools from asking students for their passwords. "You don't go on a fishing expedition when (people) apply for a job or admission for college."
Proponents say the laws apply 21st century reality to existing standards that protect job hunters and school applicants from giving out personal information like age, marital status and sexual orientation -- details often revealed on social media pages.
"There's enough information on the Internet where you can find out ample information about people -- about what is relevant to hiring a person," said Jacqueline Moshref, a human resources manager for a small medical device company in Sunnyvale. Anything more "is an invasion of privacy."
Despite the laws, there is nothing to prevent employers and universities from looking through your social media pages if they are made public. Experts recommend tweaking your privacy settings to protect yourself so not everyone can see your personal posts.
"You still need to be very careful with what you post online," said Bradley Shear, a Maryland-based social media attorney who advised lawmakers in California and other states on their new laws. "It still comes down to common sense."
California is the first state to enact laws protecting both students and workers after Maryland and Illinois earlier this year approved laws affecting just workers and Delaware did the same for just students. About a dozen other states and Congress are considering similar legislation.
The two laws -- SB 1349 from Yee and AB 1844 from Assemblywoman Nora Campos, D-San Jose -- overwhelmingly passed the Legislature in late August and had broad support from employee unions, technology companies and consumer groups.
But some securities firms that are charged with overseeing business communications opposed the bills, saying it would restrict them from monitoring whether an employee is using a personal account to communicate about the company.
"The securities industry has absolutely no interest in accessing employee accounts that are used exclusively for personal use," said Andrew DeSouza, spokesman for the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association. "We believe that a personal social media account that is used for business purposes must be treated as a business account."
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