On December 28, Michigan became the 5th state to pass a social media privacy law. House Bill 5523, entitled the Internet Privacy Protection Act, was signed by Gov. Rick Snyder and takes immediate effect. The law prohibits employers and educational institutions from requesting access to the personal internet accounts of applicants, employees, and students. Persons who are the subject of a violation of the act may bring a civil action and may recover up to $1,000 in damages, plus reasonable attorney fees and court costs.
Earlier in the year, Maryland, Illinois, California, and New Jersey passed somewhat similar bills, but the Michigan law carves out important safeguards and exceptions. For example, the law does not prohibit an employer from requesting or requiring an employee to disclose access information where:
- The communications device is paid for in whole or in part by the employer or where the account or service is provided by the employer and is utilized by virtue of the employee’s employment relationship with the employer;
- An employee has transferred the employer’s “proprietary or confidential information or financial data” to the employee’s personal Internet account;
- The employer is conducting a workplace investigation, provided that the employer has “specific information about activity on the employee’s personal internet account” or where the employer is endeavoring to comply with state or federal law; or
- The employer is “monitoring, reviewing, or accessing electronic data” traveling through its network.
Under the terms of the new law, an employer may also restrict or prohibit an employee’s access to certain websites while using an electronic communications device paid for in whole or in part by the employer or while using an employer’s network or resources, in accordance with state and federal law.