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January 3 2013

Michigan Governor Signs Social Network Account Privacy Act

By: Nathaniel R. Wolf

On December 28, 2012, Governor Snyder signed the Social Network Account Privacy Act, which prohibits employers from requesting “access information” associated with “social networking accounts” for prospective and/or current employees.  The law is designed to protect against employers requiring its employees or prospective employees to disclose access information to personal accounts as a requirement for employment.  This practice gained national attention earlier this year when it was reported that job applicants were being required to submit their login information for Facebook accounts as part of the application process.  The new law prohibits employers from requesting an employee or applicant to disclose access information associated with a social network account and from discriminating against an employee or applicant who fails to disclose the access information.  The penalties for violating the law are both criminal and civil in nature.  Violation of the act may be a misdemeanor, subjecting the violator to imprisonment up to 93 days and/or a maximum fine of $1,000.  A victim may also bring a civil action to recover actual damages or $1,000, whichever is greater, and reasonable attorney fees and court costs. 

 Although the law appears broad, it contains significant limitations.  For example, the law does not prohibit an employer from requiring an employee to disclose information to gain access to an electronic communications device paid for in whole or in part by the employer.  The law also permits an employer to gain access to an account or service provided by the employer, obtained by virtue of the employee’s relationship with the employer, or used for business purposes.  The law also allows an employer to discipline an employee for transferring proprietary or confidential information without prior authorization.  Finally, the law allows an employer to conduct an investigation if there is “specific information” about activity on the employee’s personal account for purposes of insuring compliance with applicable laws or protecting proprietary information. 

Notably, the law does not exempt law enforcement departments from its provisions, despite concern that organizations charged with protecting public safety should be allowed to use all available tools to screen prospective employees.

If you have questions or need additional information about how you can stay in compliance with the new law, please feel free to contact Nate Wolf at 616-632-8046.