Michigan is the latest State to pass a “Facebook-privacy” law. The law, called the Internet Privacy Protection Act, was signed by Gov. Rick Snyder last Friday. The law prohibits employers and educational institutions from asking applicants, employees, and students for information about the individual’s social-media accounts, reports The Detroit News.
The Michigan law contains four important exceptions. Specifically, the law does not apply when:
1. An employee “transfers” (i.e., steals) the employer’s “proprietary or confidential information or financial data” to the employee’s personal Internet account;
2. The employer is conducting a workplace investigation, provided that the employer has “specific information about activity on the employee’s personal internet account;”
3. The employer pays for the device (i.e., computer, smartphone, or tablet), in whole or in part; or
4. The employer is “monitoring, reviewing, or accessing electronic data” traveling through its network.
The enactment of Michigan’s Social Network Account Privacy Act makes Michigan the fifth State this year to enact legislation that prohibits employers from requiring or requesting an employee or applicant to disclose a username or password to a personal social-media account. Maryland, Illinois, California, and New Jersey were the first four. California and Delaware passed similar legislation applicable to educational institutions. Notably, new legislation was introduced in California on December 3, which would extend that State’s law to public employers.
I continue to believe that these laws are unnecessary and do nothing more than expose employers to legal risk with no real benefit to the citizenry. However, of all of the states to have passed such “internet-password-protection” laws, Michigan’s is the first to contain these critically important exceptions. Without them, the laws have the potential to paralyze employers from conducting internal investigations that are necessary to protect both the organization as a whole and individual employees.