Del. lawmakers vote to ban colleges from asking for social media passwords

K-12 provision considered, dropped

DELAWARE — On the last day of its session, the Delaware legislature passed a bill which prohibits both public and private colleges and universities from requiring students to hand over their social media passwords.

These schools will also not be allowed to ask students or applicants log onto social media accounts in their presence, and school officials cannot require students to add them as “friends” on their accounts.

State Sen. Brian Bushweller was the primary sponsor of the bill in the Senate, following Rep. Darryl Scott’s sponsorship of the bill in the House.

“Personally, I think this bill is sort of on the cutting edge of issues that our society will be facing because of the rapid proliferation of social media and technology development,” Bushweller said.

The language of the bill also appears to prohibit administrators from requiring students to download social media responsibility applications, such as Varsity Monitor and UDiligence, which are often used to monitor student athletes.

An amendment to HB 309 would have extended the bill to elementary and high schools, but the Senate stripped out that amendment and passed the bill close to its original form.

Some Senators felt the amendment would infringe on the rights of elementary and secondary schools to investigate disciplinary problems, Bushweller said. Bushweller agreed with the proposal, but ultimately voted for an amendment to remove it.

“My basic view is I think all students, no matter how old they are, are entitled to privacy in their personal lives,” Bushweller said. “But unfortunately, it wasn’t going to pass the Senate unless we amended [the bill in this way]. I ended up voting for the amendment only because the bill wasn’t going to pass without the amendment.”

Similar bills have been considered in California, Connecticut, New Jersey, Washington and Maryland.

“I think that the information itself is personal and in some cases as private as the contents of your email,” said David Jacobs, the Electronic Policy Information Center’s consumer protection fellow. “If you’re talking about Facebook messages, I mean, those are essentially email messages that happen to go through Facebook servers.”

Delaware lawmakers considered a similar bill that would have prohibited employers from asking for social media passwords as part of their application process. However, there was opposition to the bill and it died with the end of the legislative session. The concerns came from law enforcement and security agencies that wanted the flexibility to investigate job candidates.

Bushweller and Jacobs both feel those concerns could be addressed in future bills.

“But the other option is to not have an exception, and to really question the need for these employers to look at this information,” Jacobs said. “It doesn’t seem as if police departments or prisons were having an extremely hard time finding qualified candidates before the arrival of Facebook”

Bushweller predicts that the bill will be sent to the governor’s desk to be signed within the next two or three weeks. At that point, the governor will have ten days to sign or reject the bill.

By Nikki McGee, SPLC staff writer

delaware, news, social media, social media privacy

More Information