In the past year or two, it seems that there has been a steady stream of stories in the news about personal data being stolen from major retailers or concerns about the availability of personal information online.
Whether it is credit card data or comments made on social media sites, many people are learning personal information is just a click away.
A number of states, as well as the federal government, have laws in place that address some of the concerns people have about electronic communication and personal information on social media sites. But as technology changes, it is sometimes hard for the legal system to keep up. Earlier this year, the Legislative Reference Bureau published a summary for legislators outlining some of the current issues in Internet privacy and what the legislative response has been.
In 2013, the Pew Research Center conducted a poll and found out that 72 percent of adults use social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn. They also found that 80 percent of teenagers who use the Internet use social networking sites. Although social media sites allow users to delete information and limit who can see their public profile, some users are not aware of these options and do not understand that their data, even if deleted, may be stored indefinitely. What’s more, personal photos that are shared on the Internet can be copied and reposted by others without the owner’s permission.
You may have seen media reports about employers using information posted on social media sites to decide if they want to hire someone or to fire a current employee based on inappropriate comments or pictures. Some employers have asked their employees for personal login information for social media sites in order to monitor their comments. Students may also find that universities or school athletic programs use social media sites to monitor behavior.
The question of how employers, schools and others use information found on social media sites has resulted in legal decisions and legislation around the country.
A court case in Virginia determined that “liking” something on Facebook is a form of free speech after a deputy sheriff was fired for “liking” the Facebook page of his boss’ political opponent. As of March of this year, 12 states, including Wisconsin, passed legislation that would prohibit employers from requiring applicants or employees to provide access to personal social media sites. Wisconsin and eight other states have enacted laws that prohibit universities from requiring the same of students or prospective students. Nineteen other states have introduced these types of bills.
This session, the Wisconsin legislature passed a bill, Senate Bill 223, which generally makes it illegal for employers, landlords and educational institutions to request access to personal Internet accounts from an employee or an applicant for employment, student or prospective student, and tenant or prospective tenant. It also prohibits these entities from disciplining or penalizing individuals who do not provide access.
There are some exceptions for employers included in the new law. One of these exceptions allows employers to discipline workers if they transfer proprietary or confidential information to their personal Internet accounts. Another exception allows employers and educational institutions to have access to a device, account, service or network that is supplied by or paid for by the employer or educational institution.
I voted in favor of Senate Bill 223 because I believe it creates reasonable limits on what employers, schools and landlords can ask for and lets individuals use social media sites for their own personal communications.
As technology evolves, laws may need to be amended to keep up with new threats. In the meantime, take a moment to check your privacy settings on any social media accounts you have.