On June 13, Oregon became the eighth state—along with Arkansas, California, Delaware, Michigan, New Jersey, New Mexico, and Utah—to make an effort to enhance Internet privacy by passing a new password protection act. The act prevents colleges and universities from requiring students or prospective students to provide schools with access to their personal email or social media accounts. The bill, S.B. 344, sponsored by Senate President Pro Tempore Ginny Burdick, Senator Tim Knopp, Senator Bruce Starr, and Senator Elizabeth Steiner Hayward, and signed by Governor John Kitzhaber, states:
SECTION 1. (1) A public or private educational institution may not:
(a) Require, request or otherwise compel a student or prospective student to disclose or to provide access to a personal social media account through the student’s or prospective student’s user name and password, password or other means of authentication that provides access.
(b) Require, request or otherwise compel a student or prospective student to access a personal social media account in the presence of an administrator or other employee of the educational institution in a manner that enables the administrator or employee to observe the contents of the personal social media account.
(c) Take, or threaten to take, any action to discipline or to prohibit from participation in curricular or extracurricular activities a student or prospective student for refusal to disclose the information or take actions specified in paragraph (a) or (b) of this subsection.
(d) Fail or refuse to admit a prospective student as a result of the refusal by the prospective student to disclose the information or take actions specified in paragraph (a) or (b) of this subsection.
This legislation is complemented by H.B. 2654, signed by Governor Kitzhaber on May 22, which prevents employers from vetting their employees’ social media accounts through requesting their passwords or having employees log on in the presence of their employers. Although not specifically named, this bill provides the faculty and staff working at colleges and universities statewide with similar protections. With the number of cases FIRE has seen that have to do with colleges’ overreaction to what students and professors have said on social media platforms (particularly Facebook), FIRE would not be surprised at all if state legislatures across the country continue to pass similar legislation to protect students from overreaching college administrators.
Aaron Coven is a 2013 FIRE intern.