California Passes Comprehensive Social-Media Privacy Laws

California is now the third state to pass legislation banning employers from requesting or requiring the social-networking passwords of employees and applicants. The bill was passed by the state Assembly on Wednesday, reports the WSJ Blog. Maryland was the first state to pass a social-media password-protection law, with Illinois following suit just a few weeks ago. The bill now moves to the desk of the Governor for signature by the end of the month.

Last week, the California Senate unanimously passed a bill that prohibits colleges and universities from requesting access to student’s social-media accounts. Delaware was the first state to pass social-media privacy legislation applicable to students and academic institutions. With the passage of the employer-based bill, California’s protections will be the most comprehensive in the country.

The WSJ Blog article also references Bradley Shear, a Maryland attorney who has “advised lawmakers around the country on social media privacy legislation” and who the article quotes as saying that the California bill “is a huge win for the business community because it may provide California businesses with a legal liability shield from plaintiffs who may allege that businesses have a legal duty to monitor their employees’ personal password protected digital content.”

Seriously? Who does he think he’s kidding with that nonsense? The law imposes new restrictions on employers–and new liability to go with those restrictions. It limits an employer’s ability to regulate its workplace, investigate wrongdoing, and, in some instances, to protect employees. There has never been a successful lawsuit based on an employer’s failure to “monitor [its] employees’ personal password protected digital content.” So, if the law protects employers from something that never happens but imposes new restrictions and liability, I fail to see how that counts as a “win” for employers.

Of course, it is a win for Mr. Shear, who, apparently, is devoting his time to the passage of these laws and enjoying the media resulting from his involvement. But I doubt this line on his resume will help him secure many businesses as clients because, contrary to his claim otherwise, businesses don’t like these laws because they are unnecessary and overly broad.