California job seekers no longer need to worry about deleting pictures of their weekend escapades from their favorite social network before their next interview. The state has signed two new bills into law that prohibit businesses and schools from demanding social media credentials.

A Like for Applicant Privacy

Earlier this year, educational institutions and employers like Maryland’s Division of Correction made headlines for demanding applicants disclose their social media logins. The public, experts and media pundits debated the legality of requests until the next scandal took the public’s attention and voices of protests quietly faded. Lawmakers in California however, did not forget the issue.

The state has signed two bills into law that make it the third state to prohibit businesses and schools from asking applicants for their social media credentials and private social content. The laws are the most comprehensive set of protections in the US for social media users. The accomplishment prompted California governor Jerry Brown to tweet the news. The new bills include:  

  • Assembly Bill1844: prohibits employers from demanding social media-related material
  • Assembly Bill 1349: prohibits colleges from demanding social media-related material from prospective students

Both laws will go into effect on January 1, 2013. Maryland and Illinois enacted similar legislation earlier this year, but only extended protections to employees. Delaware also passed a social media privacy law, which focused exclusively on students. Other states are also considering passing laws that address social media privacy. In addition, Congress is also reviewing a federal level social media privacy bill called SNOPA.

Editor's Note: Do Not Track is another hot topic in the privacy debate

Is a Law Really Necessary

Is it really necessary to have laws that address social media privacy? Only a few occurrences of employers examining the private contents of social media accounts have gained public attention, but there may be many more incidents. Several studies have shown that more employers and schools are considering public media presence in their selection process.

New laws may protect users from having to directly share private social media contents, it does not mean dalliances captured meticulously via photos and status updates won’t become public knowledge. Most social networks allow users to re-share content posted by friends, which can mean private content becoming public in the click of a button. Ultimately, if you don’t want the public to know the details of some action or fear embarrassment -- don’t post it online.