After hearing about an employer asking a college student to share access to personal social media accounts while applying for a job, Rep. Melissa Sargent, D-Madison, authored a bill to provide privacy to young people, which could reach the Senate after Tuesday’s session.
The bill would restrict employers from using private online accounts as a way of judging applicants, prevent prospective student applicants from being required to share access to their accounts by potential schools, in addition to restricting landlords from asking for access from potential tenants.
According to a July report from the Pew Internet Center, most Americans do not believe current law protects their right to privacy online and most use many privacy settings to prevent their profiles from being public to others.
“I found out that this is legal and it was concerning,” Sargent said. “I took all that and decided to draft a bill that would put some provisions on that and here we are.”
The bill has received wide bipartisan support, with more than 50 sponsors from both sides of the aisle in the Assembly and Senate.
Many of those who support the bill say that it offers a safety net for people who don’t think ahead when they post on social media.
“Students don’t always think ahead or think that it could be somebody older to make a professional decision on their future and they could end up out of a job because of something that they posted not looking ahead,” Rep. Terese Berceau, D-Madison, a supporter of the bill, said.
However, the bill would not offer absolute protection to social media users. Employers would still be able to use public information. If a person’s privacy settings don’t block the employer from seeing their page, that employer can still use it when considering for hire. They would also be able to monitor activity on work devices.
Online privacy has become more highly contested as now technology has given increasing amounts of access to personal information, information that should not be addressed in interviews, Berceau said.
“It’s very similar to the days when employers used to ask if a woman was planning on getting pregnant or their religion,” Berceau said. “I see this as important as that because they can get all kinds of information from having that password.”
However, there are also benefits for employers. The provisions of the law would protect them against discrimination lawsuits.
Should the bill pass out of committee Tuesday, Sargent said young people would still need to be careful about what they post online.
“If you’re posting on a wall and you’ve got yourself open for that you need to be wise about that,” Sargent said. “If it’s out there people have access to it.”