Enacting privacy protection for social media accounts: interesting developments

California recently signed into law two bills that make it illegal for employers and colleges/universities to ask for their employees’ (or students’) log in credentials for personal social networking accounts (Facebook, Twitter) and email. In a recent statement, Governor Jerry Brown proudly declared “”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.”

Ken Yeung of TheNextWeb.com, recently pointed out that California joins just two other states in enacting privacy protections explicitly for social networking accounts. (Source: “California Governor Signs Law Protecting Social Media Privacy” via TheNextWeb.com) However, the social media privacy protections in the other two states – Illinois and Maryland – have not yet gone into effect. Meanwhile, the NYTimes.com reports that two Democratic senators (Senator Schumer – NY and Senator Blumenthal – Conn.) recently called on Attorney General Holder to ascertain whether the practice of asking for prospective employees’ Facebook log in credentials violates federal law. (Source: “Senators Want Employers’ Facebook Password Requests Reviewed” via NYTimes.com)

Proponents of explicit social networking privacy protections may have been dealt a setback, however. Timothy Lee of ArsTechnica.com reported most recently that a federal judge ruled against a Pennsylvania woman’s claim that her former employer violated a federal anti-hacking statute when the company changed the password on the woman’s LinkedIn account after her employment was terminated. (Source: “Takeover of employee LinkedIn account doesn’t violate hacking law” via Ars Technica)

Allegedly, a coworker changed the woman’s LinkedIn account password after the woman’s employment ended. The woman shared her password originally with the coworker so that the coworker could help the woman manage her LinkedIn account. After the woman was fired, her ex-assistant changed the password in order to seize control of the woman’s LinkedIn account. The federal judge rejected the woman’s argument, citing the overly-speculative nature of the harms alleged.

What do you think about these developments? Do users of social networking services need explicit privacy protections from their employers and/or universities? Is the sometimes dual use of social networking services for both personal and professional reasons (often simultaneously) make for a uniquely complex problem when it comes to thinking about privacy protection?

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