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Social networking protection bill one of several introduced
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Social networking protection bill one of several introduced

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LINCOLN - Griping about your job on Facebook might become a protected pastime in Nebraska.

A bill introduced Thursday in the Nebraska Legislature would prohibit employers from requiring employees or job applicants to turn over their social network passwords.

The Workplace Privacy Act, introduced by State Sen. Tyson Larson of O'Neill, also would prevent public or private employers from snooping on an employee's social networking accounts through a friend or other third party.

Employers who violate the law could be sued by the affected employee or applicant under Legislative Bill 58.

The bill's sponsor said more is at stake than the right to complain. While the line between work life and home life has blurred over time, Larson said, people shouldn't be forced to relinquish all their privacy to obtain or keep a job.

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"I want to make sure nobody can infringe on our individual liberties," he said.

Larson was inspired to introduce the bill after reading about the issue in a national publication. He said he has not been approached by employees in Nebraska who have been forced to turn over access to private accounts.

California, Illinois, Maryland and Michigan passed similar laws in 2012, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Two other states, New Jersey and Delaware, prohibited educational institutions from gaining access to social networks of students or applicants.

Some employers in those states argued they need access to employee accounts to protect proprietary information or trade secrets and to address liability issues, according to a conference report.

The Nebraska proposal attempts to address such concerns by preserving an employer's right to investigate an employee for improperly downloading proprietary information. And it wouldn't negate a employer's policy on the use of social networks at work.

Nor would the law apply to electronic devices or accounts employers provide to staff members for work purposes.

A related measure, Legislative Bill 37, would allow a deceased person's social networking accounts to be accessed by his or her personal representative. Sen. John Wightman of Lexington sponsored similar legislation last year, but it failed to get out of committee.

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