PRIVACY: Social Media Privacy in Education (SB 344) (2013)

A companion bill to HB 2654, which prohibits employers from compelling access to an applicant or employee’s social media account, SB 344 extends this prohibition to Oregon colleges and universities, restricting their access to applicants’ or students’ private social media accounts.

Introduced by Senators Ginny Burdick (D-Portland) and Elizabeth Steiner Hayward (D-NW Portland/Beaverton), SB 344 initially addressed only social media privacy in the employment setting and was meant to be a Senate version of the very similar bill on the House side. The two bills ran concurrently in the early weeks of the session until it became clear that the employment and higher education issues should be addressed separately. Senators Bruce Starr (R-Hillsboro) and Tim Knopp (R-Bend) added their support as sponsors to SB 344 and the bill became the vehicle to address social media privacy in higher education.

Working with each of these Senators, with House sponsor Representative Margaret Doherty (D-Tigard), and with representatives from the Oregon University System (OUS), we negotiated amendments that enabled the bill to move forward without opposition. Primarily, like industry interests in regard to HB 2654, OUS wanted the bill to make clear that institutions could investigate specific instances of student misconduct just as they always have, that they could utilize cyber-security software, and that they could continue to access otherwise public information about applicants and students.

We were able to reach agreement on these items, but left on the table one additional issue where OUS was not in agreement. We wanted to include provisions in SB 344 that would have prohibited teachers, coaches, and administrators from requiring that a student “friend” them on social media. Schools are requiring student-athletes, in particular, to make these “friend” connections on social media sites such as Facebook, the effect of which is to provide access to the coach (or other administrator) to a student’s information that is otherwise not visible to the general public.

These forced connections can expose a student to monitoring of private communication amongst friends and family, monitoring that is sometimes outsourced to automatic social media monitoring companies like UDiligence and Varsity Monitor. Unfortunately, OUS did not agree to a prohibition on “coercive friending” on social media and, in the interest of moving forward with consensus amongst stakeholders, we agreed postpone further debate on that issue for a later date. We are pleased with the outcome of SB 344, a priority bill of ours that will better protect college age students from electronic snooping by their education officials.

Vote: 28-0-2 Senate
57-1-2 House