Wis. bill would shield job seekers’ web privacy
MADISON, Wis. — A Wisconsin state lawmaker is pushing legislation that would prevent employers from requiring employees or job applicants to provide access to their personal social media accounts.
The proposal, introduced by freshman Rep. Melissa Sargent, D-Madison, has quickly gained bipartisan support in the Legislature. Rep. Garey Bies, a Republican from Sister Bay who’s co-sponsoring the bill, said social media access should be protected and people shouldn’t be expected to give it to employers or potential employers.
“I don’t think it is right that people could demand it from you for any consideration,” Bies said. “They shouldn’t use it against you or put you in a position where you had to make that decision.”
The proposal would also ban schools or landlords from requesting access to personal Internet accounts of students or tenants.
It has a few exceptions, including allowing employers to compel employees to cooperate in investigations of proprietary information being improperly transmitted on social networks. Employers would also be able to monitor data on electronic devices they pay for employees. Employers could still examine publicly accessible material, too.
At least 35 states are considering similar legislation, according to the National Conference on State Legislatures. Nine states have enacted such laws.
Sargent said she drafted the proposal after some college students in her district reported potential employers asking for access to their Facebook accounts.
Kimberley Cornwell, associate director of career services at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, said it makes sense for employers to track social media as a way to sift candidates. But she said there are boundaries, and employees shouldn’t be forced to surrender access.
She said job seekers should make sure they check their privacy settings if they want to shield some material from public view. She said they also should steer potential employers to their online job portfolios on sites such as LinkedIn.
Mike Ziehr, a sophomore at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, said he hasn’t had a potential employer ask him for access to his social media accounts. He said he might let an employer look at his Facebook account if he was present, but he also questions whether there is much there for them to learn.
“I don’t agree with that,” Ziehr said. “It’s kind of unnecessary. There is not much up there that could tell about me.”
The First Amendment Center is an educational organization and cannot provide legal advice.
Ken Paulson is president of the First Amendment Center and dean of the College of Mass Communication at Middle Tennessee State University. He is also the former editor-in-chief of USA Today.
Gene Policinski, chief operating officer of the Newseum Institute, also is senior vice president of the First Amendment Center, a center of the institute. He is a veteran journalist whose career has included work in newspapers, radio, television and online.
John Seigenthaler founded the First Amendment Center in 1991 with the mission of creating national discussion, dialogue and debate about First Amendment rights and values.
Dr. Charles C. Haynes is director of the Religious Freedom Education Project at the Newseum. He writes and speaks extensively on religious liberty and religion in American public life.
David L. Hudson Jr. is an expert in First Amendment issues and a regular contributor to the First Amendment Center's website. Hudson teaches law and was a scholar at the First Amendment Center.