Maine Legislature Considering Privacy in Social Media

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Joining a growing trend nationally, the Maine Legislature is considering a bill that would prohibit employers from requiring employees to disclose their log-in information for social media and personal e-mail accounts. The bill, L.D. 1194, An Act to Protect Social Media Privacy in School and the Workplace, is currently being considered by the Judiciary Committee and has been the subject of several work sessions since the beginning of the year.  In a recent work session, the Committee recommended that the Legislature create a commission to study privacy issues further, rather than enact the bill as drafted.  The exact fate of the bill, however, remains to be seen.

Ten states have already passed legislation similar to Maine’s L.D. 1194, including Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Vermont and Washington.  Meanwhile, in 2014, similar legislation is currently pending in twenty-five other states, including California, Florida, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York and Rhode Island.  This flurry of legislation at the state level follows failed efforts at the federal level, where several social media privacy bills have been introduced but not passed.

Employers should we aware, however, that even if requesting password information from employees is not strictly prohibited, making these kinds of requests can still be risky.  By gaining access to places where employees reveal personal information about themselves, employers may stumble upon information that is protected by other laws, including state and federal anti-discrimination laws.  Employers should therefore proceed with caution in this area.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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