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November 16, 2015

Senate to push for employee social media protections

Antonio Caban/SHNS Sen. Creem (D-Newton) has put forward a social media privacy bill, which has some slight updates from a proposal that passed the Senate last year. The Senate is considering it for a vote this Wednesday.

The state Senate this week plans to renew its attempt to deliver social media privacy protections for students and employment candidates in Massachusetts.

Sponsored by Assistant Majority Leader Sen. Cynthia Stone Creem, the bill (S 2034) teed up for consideration on Wednesday would prohibit public and private educational institutions and employers from requiring that students or prospective workers disclose their social media account information.

There have been instances where athletic officials have requested student social media information before allowing students to play and where teachers have said students need to "friend" them, Creem said. "This is something that should not happen . . . " said Creem, who is an attorney.

According to Creem, the bill includes exemptions for schools to deal with potential incidents or investigations tied to social network accounts. It also makes exceptions for employers, like certain financial and securities firms, which may require social media access.

Some people make their social media content available publicly, but others aim to have some privacy.

"We now are in a world of social media. People don't have diaries. People don't have private letters. It's all done on the internet and that should have the same privacy that somebody had when they had a diary in their drawer. It shouldn't be any different," said Creem.

A similar bill passed the Senate 39-0 last summer, but never emerged from the House Ways and Means Committee before the 2013-2014 session came to a close. A Creem aide said the bill she filed this session goes further in clarifying the bill's exemptions.

If the legislation clears the Senate on Wednesday, the last day of formal sessions for 2015, it would move on to the House. Informal sessions run through December and formal sessions are scheduled to resume in January and run through July of 2016.

Cosponsors of Creem's original bill (S 962) include Sens. Michael Moore, Jason Lewis, and Ryan Fattman and Reps. Jose Tosado, Keiko Orrall, Angelo Puppolo, Marjorie Decker and Lori Ehrlich, as well as Education Committee Co-chair Rep. Alice Peisch.

Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM), a trade group that represents employers, told the News Service Sunday that it supports the social media legislation with two amendments, including one already folded into the Senate Ways and Means Committee version of the bill addressing business such as financial services firms.

AIM is also supporting a Sen. Moore amendment "to address normal workplace investigations designed to ensure workplace safety and to prevent unauthorized transfer of proprietary or financial or medical information through social media."

According to AIM, companies may need to conduct an internal investigation that would include an employee's social media account in cases involving workplace harassment and violence against employees or customers, unauthorized disclosure of new product launches or business plans, trade secrets or confidential information, or customer information. Investigations may also be warranted in cases involving behavior that places company computers or networks at risk, AIM said.

The Labor and Workforce Development Committee on Oct. 19 recommended a new draft (S 2034) of the bill and the Senate Ways and Means Committee on Thursday gave a favorable report to another version of the bill (S 2054). Senators have until 11 a.m. Monday to file amendments to the bill.

On Thursday, the Newton Democrat sat down for an interview with the News Service to discuss the bill and why she believes it should prevail.

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