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NH Senate approves social media protections

Norma Love, Associated Press

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) -- New Hampshire's Senate voted unanimously Thursday to prohibit bosses from requiring employees or job applicants to disclose user names or passwords to personal Facebook, Twitter or other social media or email accounts.

But the Republican-controlled chamber voted 13-11 along party lines to add an amendment on union contracts that could spell trouble when the bill goes back to the House to consider changes to the bill.

The bill would apply the ban to the workers' personal accounts unrelated to the employer's business. The bill does not prevent employers from enforcing workplace policies about company equipment.

The measure would not prohibit an employer from obtaining information in the public domain or prevent the employer from investigating whether the employee is complying with securities or financial laws based on the person's personal website used for business purposes.

The House passed the bill in March, but the Senate amended it Thursday so the House must review the changes.

Democrats were upset the Republican majority added what they view is a "poison pill" to the bill — the contents of a bill the Democratic House killed that gave a 10-member joint legislative committee power to approve cost items in collective bargaining contracts with state employee unions.

Senate Democratic Leader Sylvia Larsen of Concord objected the added provision could doom the social media provisions. The Senate passed the social media part of the bill unanimously, but added the contract provisions 13-11 along party lines.

Last year, six states — California, Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan and New Jersey — passed similar laws barring employers from requiring the disclosure of Facebook, Twitter or other account information, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

NCSL reports that legislation is pending in at least 35 states this year including New Hampshire. Arkansas, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Washington passed laws this year and bills have been sent to the governor in Oregon and Vermont.

Some states have similar laws to protect college students from having to grant access to social networking accounts, according to NCSL.

In their effort to vet job applicants, some companies and government agencies have started asking for passwords to log into a prospective employee's accounts on social media sites, such as Facebook and Twitter. Critics call it an invasion of privacy akin to handing over the keys to the person's house.

Sen. Donna Soucy, a co-sponsor of the New Hampshire bill, said employers can gain access to information about an employee or job applicant through social media accounts like Facebook that they otherwise could not legally obtain. She said people post personal information about themselves on Facebook, or others post on the person's page. That information, she said, should be protected.

She said she had not heard of any New Hampshire employers demanding the information.

Soucy, D-Manchester, said employers can use information on social media accounts to discriminate, such as not interviewing someone whose Facebook picture shows the applicant to be obese when weight would not be required on the application.

Soucy said other people can post information on the person's page that the person might not delete before a prospective employer saw it.

Allowing employers access to social media accounts also gives them access to others linked to the account, which could infringe on their privacy.