Del. lawmakers vote to ban colleges from asking for social media passwords

DELAWARE — On the last day of its session, theDelaware legislature passed a bill which prohibits both public and privatecolleges and universities from requiring students to hand over their socialmedia passwords.

Theseschools will also not be allowed to ask students or applicants log onto socialmedia accounts in their presence, and school officials cannot require studentsto add them as “friends” on their accounts.

StateSen. Brian Bushweller was the primary sponsor of the bill in the Senate,following Rep. Darryl Scott’s sponsorship of the bill in the House.

“Personally,I think this bill is sort of on the cutting edge of issues that our societywill be facing because of the rapid proliferation of social media andtechnology development,” Bushweller said.

Thelanguage of the bill also appears to prohibit administrators from requiringstudents to download social media responsibility applications, such as VarsityMonitor and UDiligence, which are often used to monitor student athletes.

Anamendment to HB 309 would have extended the bill to elementary and highschools, but the Senate stripped out that amendment and passed the bill closeto its original form.

SomeSenators felt the amendment would infringe on the rights of elementary andsecondary schools to investigate disciplinary problems, Bushweller said. Bushwelleragreed with the proposal, but ultimately voted for an amendment to remove it.

“Mybasic view is I think all students, no matter how old they are, are entitled toprivacy in their personal lives,” Bushweller said. “But unfortunately, itwasn’t going to pass the Senate unless we amended [the bill in this way]. Iended up voting for the amendment only because the bill wasn’t going to passwithout the amendment.”

Similarbills have been considered in California, Connecticut, New Jersey, Washingtonand Maryland.

“Ithink that the information itself is personal and in some cases as private asthe contents of your email,” said David Jacobs, the Electronic Policy Information Center’sconsumer protection fellow. “If you’re talking about Facebook messages,I mean, those are essentially email messages that happen to go through Facebookservers.”

Delawarelawmakers considered a similar bill that would have prohibited employers fromasking for social media passwords as part of their application process.However, there was opposition to the bill and it died with the end of thelegislative session. The concerns came from law enforcement and securityagencies that wanted the flexibility to investigate job candidates.

Bushwellerand Jacobs both feel those concerns could be addressed in future bills.

“Butthe other option is to not have an exception, and to really question the needfor these employers to look at this information,” Jacobs said. “It doesn’t seemas if police departments or prisons were having an extremely hard time finding qualified candidates before the arrivalof Facebook”

Bushwellerpredicts that the bill will be sent to the governor’s desk to be signed withinthe next two or three weeks. At thatpoint, the governor will have ten days to sign or reject the bill.

By Nikki McGee, SPLC staff writer