Update, March 25, 2:41 p.m.: The bill died in the Senate committee.
An Arkansas Senate committee this week is set to consider a bill that would reverse some online privacy protections for workers, undoing part of a social media rights law passed two years ago.
The bill, passed by a 91-1 Arkansas House vote in February, would lift the ban on employers requiring employees to connect with them on social media, thereby allowing bosses to force workers to friend them on Facebook or follow them on Twitter. But some employers would be granted even more access to their employees’ accounts.
The proposal, scheduled for a Senate labor committee hearing on Wednesday, would leave in place the earlier law’s other provisions, which ban employers from asking employees to change their privacy settings or provide their account passwords. But some employers would be exempt from even those prohibitions. Religious organizations and those that deal with the supervision of children — such as schools, day cares and summer camps — would be altogether excluded from the social media rules.
“What we’re trying to do is to just move that line back so that employers, if say an employee is making slanderous statements about their employer in social media, that the employer has the right to know that,” Rep. Nate Bell (R) said in an interview with a local television station two months ago.
“We clearly don’t want people — employers — being able to access that bedroom information. Probably don’t want them accessing the backyard information. But what happens in the front yard is very similar to what happens in the street,” he said by way of analogy. As of publication, Bell had not responded to two Washington Post requests for comment sent Monday.
The bill has already garnered pushback from children’s advocates and organizations representing victims of domestic abuse. The bill, those groups argue, could help employers identify and out victims of abuse by allowing them to see their affiliation with online support groups on a social network.
“Applicants and employees would be put in a situation where they are no longer in control of their privacy settings and would be forced to disclose information they would otherwise not share with their employer,” the National Network to End Domestic Violence wrote in a Monday letter to Bell co-signed by the Arkansas Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
Facebook has taken issue with the bill, too.
“Any legislation that requires employees to give employers access to their private communication is problematic, but this bill goes even further by compelling minors to provide an adult employee or supervisor access to their social media accounts,” the company said in a statement. “As child safety advocates have noted, this could result in inappropriate contact between that adult employee and the minor, jeopardizing the safety not only of the minor, but also the friends with whom they were communicating.”
When the bill was up for a vote before the 100-member, majority-Republican House in February, just one legislator — Rep. Warwick Sabin (D) — voted against it.
“I think we’re kind of moving into dangerous territory where we’re giving primacy to businesses and employers and allowing them access to every aspect of their employees’ lives,” Sabin said in a Monday interview.
Timing may explain why he stood alone in opposition to the bill, he suggested: “My recollection is that there was very little explanation of the bill, very few questions, very little debate and a quick vote.”
Arkansas isn’t the only state considering legislation affecting employee rights online. Nearly three dozen bills in 22 states would change laws surrounding worker rights on social media, but the majority would protect employees, according to a review of data compiled by the bipartisan National Conference of State Legislatures, current as of March 9.
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