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State of Rhode Island General Assembly
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Rhode Island enacts social media privacy laws
Protections established for potential employees, students
STATE HOUSE -- Although it is called “social” media, individuals using online services such as Facebook or Twitter should not be required to divulge information they wish to keep private, said Senate Majority Leader Dominick J. Ruggerio and Rep. Brian Patrick Kennedy. Nor should potential employers or school admissions officers ask applicants to provide their log-in information or to sign into their social media accounts so an interviewer can view their on-line activities.
Approved by the General Assembly and signed into law this week by the governor, the 2014 Student and Employee Social Media Privacy acts will bar employers from demanding social media-related materials of job applicants, and will establish similar prohibitions for colleges as they consider prospective students.
The new law also includes a Student Data-Cloud Computing act, providing that any cloud computing service to an educational institution in the state may not process any student data for any commercial purpose, such as advertising that benefits the cloud computing service provider.
Patterned on statute in California that is considered one of the nation’s strongest social media privacy laws in the nation, the new law will establish what aspects of social media are private and protected and will set prohibitions against those who would request or try to compel this information.
The legislation that was signed by the governor (2014-S 2095Aaa and 2014-H 7124Aaa) provides that:
No educational institution can require, suggest or cause a student or prospective student to disclose the user name, password or any other means for accessing a personal social media account or divulge any personal social media information.
No educational institution can compel a student or applicant, as a condition of acceptance to the school, to add anyone (coach, instructor, school administrator or other school employee or volunteer) to their list of contacts associated with a social media account.
No educational institution can discharge, discipline or otherwise penalize any student for refusing to disclose social media information or refuse to admit any applicant for refusing to disclose information.
Any civil action alleging a violation of those provisions would result in an award of punitive and actual damages.
Similarly, no employer will be allowed to require, request, suggest or cause an employee or applicant to disclose personal social media information.
No employer will be allowed to compel an applicant to add anyone, including the employer or agent, to the applicant’s list of contacts associated with the social media account.
Employers will be prohibited from discharging, disciplining or otherwise penalizing any employee for refusing to divulge social media information.
In addition to punitive and actual damages, any civil action alleging a violation of those provisions could also result in injunctive relief against the employer.
“Clearly social media outlets should have a primary objective of allowing an individual to share certain material with others,” said Majority Leader Ruggerio (D-Dist. 4, Providence, North Providence). “But there should be a distinct line between what an individual posts and makes available to others and information such as passwords and one-to-one communications. Individuals on social media who intend for these things not to be made public should not be forced to make them public.”
“We need to spell out the right to privacy very clearly in our laws, especially today when there are growing concerns that an individual’s privacy is more and more under attack,” said Representative Kennedy (D-Dist. 38, Hopkinton, Westerly), chair of the House Committee on Corporations. “Under this new law, potential employers and prospective educational institutions can still see what applicants are posting for general public consumption. They just will not be able to force or coerce access to private pages that only the applicant’s friends or family might see. I think that is a very good balance of individual privacy concerns and legitimate employer or school needs.”
For more information, contact:
Randall T. Szyba
State House Room 20
Providence, RI 02903
Lt. Governor's Office
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