California employers and universities will no longer be permitted to ask employees and students for access to their social media accounts under a pair of bills recently signed into law. The legislation comes in response to concerns from state officials that some businesses were requiring employees and prospective employees to provide access to their social media accounts in order to conduct background checks and take disciplinary action. State officials were also concerned with universities using social media to monitor student behavior, particularly for student athletes. The California laws follow similar legislation passed by Maryland and Illinois, as well as federal legislation currently under consideration by Congress, and poses new restrictions on employers and educators from using online material to take action offline.
According to the California governor’s office, the new laws will protect residents from “unwarranted invasions” of privacy. However, critics of the bills suggest that the new restrictions may prevent employers from adequately investigating cases of workplace harassment and universities from ensuring their student athletes comply with NCAA rules.