1) employer access to, and observation of, the personal Internet accounts of employees and applicants for employment;
2) educational institution access to, and observation of, the personal Internet accounts of students and prospective students; and
3) landlord access to, and observation of, the personal Internet accounts of tenants and prospective tenants.
The bill created Wis. Stat. § 995.55: Internet privacy protection. Over the past few years, I have heard horror stories from people who applied for a job only to have the employer open up that person’s Facebook page live during the interview after demanding to know the applicant’s username. I didn’t always feel too bad for these folks, since at a certain point you should know better than to post pictures of yourself in compromising situations for all the world to see. If your boss ended up seeing posts you wrote slamming the company or photos of you passed out on the frat house couch, that’s kind of your own fault.
But occasionally, I heard anecdotes of an employer actually requiring disclosure of the applicant’s username and password so that any privacy controls set by the employee would become useless. Even if you were careful with your online presence and made sure you only granted access to a select group of friends or family, your principal or your boss would suddenly become a part of that chosen few who could see everything. With an economy in which many people are still desperate to find gainful employment, I could imagine many people capitulated to these kinds of requests even though they felt extremely violated by the disclosure of such personal information.
It looks as if this new law is attempting to curb such practices and has made its target the areas in which power disparities are the greatest: your job, your education, and your landlord. The new statute prohibits employers, educational institutions, and landlords from requesting or requiring disclosure of “access information” for your “personal Internet accounts.” By using the verb “request,” the statute prohibits these entities from even asking you for this information. In other words, unless you voluntarily walk up to your boss and say, “hey you should follow me on Twitter- my username is DrinksOnTheJobJill,” your boss will have to resort to more intensive research if he or she wants to find out who you are in the online universe.
Employers may not request or require disclosure as a condition of employment, nor may they fire or otherwise discriminate against you if you do not disclose the information. Schools cannot make disclosure a condition of enrollment, nor can they discipline or otherwise penalize you for refusing to disclose the information.
Here are some of what I consider to be the most important highlights about this new law: Continue reading