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Social Media Privacy Law in Michigan Furthers Nationwide Trend

by Jane Susskind, published

Friday, Michigan's Internet Privacy Protection Act was signed into law by Governor Rick Snyder, aimed to increase protections for employees and students in the social media realm. The Internet Privacy Protection Act, or House Bill 5523, "prohibit employers and educational institutions from requiring certain individuals to grant access to, allow observation of, or disclose information that allows access to or observation of personal Internet accounts."

In a time where cooperation is lacking from our leaders, this bill garnered bipartisan support, as well as the support of the National Federation of Independent Business and the American Civil Liberties Union.

"I think this demonstrated broad bipartisan support of working together to update our own privacy laws," said state Rep. Aric Nesbitt, who sponsored the bill.

Also applicable to potential students or employers, this Facebook privacy law prevents institutions or employers from penalizing those who refuse to grant access to social media accounts. The Michigan law, however, is not the only instance of more stringent protections against the invasion of privacy, rather it is part of a nationwide trend.

"Potential employees and students should be judged on their skills and abilities, not private online activity," Snyder said in a press release Friday.

As outlined last week on IVN, California recently passed legislation that would protect employees in the work place. Delaware and Illinois similarly have reaffirmed their citizens' right to privacy in the social sphere.

In a press release Governor Snyder spoke to the importance of the bill to the "reinvention of Michigan." He continued, "Potential employees and students should be judged on their skills and abilities, not private online activity."

This comes on the heels of the Federal Trade Commission's updated regulations on children privacy. The Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), initially introduced in 1998, was passed to protect the privacy of children using the Internet. The act prevents companies from collecting and using information of children under the age of 13 without parental consent.

While the initial act placed sufficient protections on online activity, the outdated language did not apply to mobile use, and in a society where 23 percent of children between the ages of 12 and 17 have smartphones, these updates become increasingly imperative. Responding to the growing availability of mobile phones, new regulations would significantly increase the number of companies that would required parental consent upon harvesting user data, including photos, videos, contacts, and geo-location based information.

As reported by the Standard-Examiner:

"As with websites, parents must now be notified and give their consent before a company can collect personal information about their children. The FTC also expanded the definition of personal information, which will include geolocation data, photos, audio files and videos. None of these items (along with text-based data like a child’s name, which was already included in the old rule) can be collected by a website or other entity such as an ad network, without notifying a parent and getting consent."

Not only do the provisions increase protections on children, but expand the definition of private information, deeming photos, videos, and audio files necessary for parental consent.

As we begin a new year, we can expect the appearance of more legislation addressing privacy concerns online, as both the young and old explore the endless possibilities of the Internet.

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