New Jersey earlier this month became the latest state to bar college and university officials from demanding access to students’ or applicants’ personal online accounts. Gov. Chris Christie signed the law, which takes effect immediately, on Dec. 3.
Under the new law, which applies to public and private higher-education institutions, schools cannot require a student or applicant to “in any way provide access” to “a personal account or service through an electronic communications device,” nor may schools “in any way inquire as to whether a student or applicant” has a social-media account. Schools may not retaliate against students who refuse to provide access to their accounts, and the law voids any agreement to waive the statute’s protections.
As we have discussed previously, California and Delaware have enacted similar laws protecting students’ social-media accounts. New Jersey’s law appears more stringent in certain respects. In particular, the California and Delaware statutes do not include an anti-waiver provision, and both laws include provisions regarding schools’ ability to investigate crimes or misconduct. The New Jersey law, in contrast, contains no explicit exceptions to the general bar on demanding access to students’ online accounts.
A separate bill pending in the New Jersey General Assembly would impose similar restrictions on the ability of employers to demand access to their employees’ personal online accounts. Both the General Assembly and the state Senate have approved versions of the bill, which is awaiting the General Assembly’s concurrence to a Senate amendment exempting law enforcement agencies and corrections departments. Unlike the student-focused law, the employer-focused bill includes a definition of “personal accounts” (as distinguished from business accounts) and an explicit exception for measures designed to comply with applicable laws, regulations, or the rules of self-regulatory bodies.
Maryland, Illinois, and California also have enacted legislation this year generally prohibiting the forced disclosure of employees’ personal social media accounts to employers.