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Bill would keep employers out of workers’ social media posts

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Employees wouldn’t have to give bosses the passwords to their social media accounts under a bill in the Hawaii Legislature.

Privacy rights are extremely important to Rep. Matthew LoPresti, D-Ewa Beach, who said he introduced the bill to protect future generations.

“I was probably the last generation to have privacy in my youth that hasn’t been documented,” said LoPresti, who is 40.

LoPresti’s bill would keep employers from accessing their workers’ and potential employees’ social media posts that aren’t available publicly, except under certain conditions.

The bill passed out of the House Committee on Labor and Public Employment on Tuesday. It was amended at the request of the Hawaii Civil Rights Commission, which sought to limit the scope of special circumstances through which employers could get out of the ban, while also protecting an employer’s right to investigate claims of harassment in the workplace.

The Hawaii Chamber of Commerce opposed the bill. The group said in written testimony that it’s unnecessary because as far as the chamber knows, employers don’t ask for that information.

“This bill seems to be addressing a problem that does not exist, and by doing so places an additional burden to Hawaii’s businesses,” the chamber argued.

But William Hoshijo, executive director of the Hawaii Civil Rights Commission, said he’s heard of employers using social media to pre-screen potential applicants.

“I think there are young people who suffer negative consequences of what they post, because employers either can see it or someone’s given it to them,” Hoshijo said.

In addition to viewing photos of a candidate’s drunken weekend bender, employers rifling through private Facebook posts could potentially find out a candidate’s marital status or religion, characteristics that are protected under civil rights law. That would be in addition to the gender and race of job candidates, which usually can be found in a simple web search, or by looking at the public information that’s available online without a password.

“People post things that may go to protected information that employers shouldn’t have,” Hoshijo said. “Employers probably access the publicly accessible stuff all the time, even though they shouldn’t.”

The bill didn’t address the possibility that employers could use technology to obtain their workers’ personal passwords without the employees’ knowledge, said Rep. Andria Tupola, R-Ewa Villages, who voted with reservations to advance the bill.

“I’m just not in favor of making more laws that aren’t really getting to the problem,” Tupola said.

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