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State lawmakers pass Internet privacy, revenge porn bills

Madison — The state would ban snooping in the Facebook accounts of job seekers and students and criminalize so-called revenge porn, under two Internet privacy bills passed by lawmakers Tuesday.

The Senate on Tuesday unanimously approved a bill to prohibit employers, landlords and colleges from pressuring job seekers, tenants or aspiring college athletes to turn over the passwords to their private social media or email accounts.

The bill, which has won respect from some business groups for its careful approach, would still allow employers and schools to look at applicants’ or students’ public postings on the Internet. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) said he was considering taking up the bill Thursday and Tom Evenson, a spokesman for Gov. Scott Walker, said the governor would sign it.

In other action Tuesday, the Assembly adopted a bill to protect people from having romantic images later used against them online. So-called revenge porn cases can occur when a jilted lover or other former intimate takes revenge by posting to the Internet nude or otherwise compromising images of his or her ex in an attempt to humiliate that person.

Evolving technology

The growth in the Internet and social media is prompting lawmakers around the country to rethink their laws to protect the privacy of their citizens. Rep. Melissa Sargent (D-Madison) said legislators are trying to keep up with rapidly evolving technology.

“That’s a big part of what we’re here for — to make sure we’re up to date and staying on top of changing technology,” Sargent said.

Since last year, dozens of legislatures have either passed or taken up social media legislation to prohibit groups such as employers from demanding that applicants let them see private information online.

The proposals have received bipartisan support in many of those states as well as Wisconsin, where the lead sponsors include Sargent, Rep. Garey Bies (R-Sister Bay) and Sen. Glenn Grothman (R-West Bend).

Concern over requests

Sargent has said she has heard directly from young constituents who have faced social media questions in employment applications and interviews. The employers weren’t just looking at the applicants’ public Facebook profile but asking to see information that was part of a private account that could normally be viewed only by the applicant and his or her approved friends.

Applicants were free to refuse the request but worried it could hurt their chances of getting the position in a tight labor market where good jobs are hard to find, Sargent said.

Employers in other states such as the Maryland Department of Corrections and the City of Bozeman, Mont., have asked for login information and passwords for Facebook on applications or asked employees to log in so the employer can look over their shoulder.

Bradley Shear, an attorney who has consulted on and advocated for social media legislation in other states, has said at least two dozen universities nationwide demand social media log-ins of their student athletes or require them to “friend” a coach so the universities can monitor the accounts for possible crimes or violations of NCAA rules. The practice is widespread enough that companies such as Varsity Monitor and UDiligence have sprouted up to handle this monitoring job for schools.

The legislation approved by the Senate doesn’t stop institutions from monitoring what employees or others post publicly using social media. Employers and others also could still regulate what employees do on their work computers and cellphones.

Among the other exceptions, employers could still investigate whether employees had transferred proprietary data to online accounts such as their email.

In exchange, the bill would make clear that employers and other groups don’t have a duty to check their employees’ personal email and other accounts and shouldn’t be held liable for not monitoring that private information.

Revenge Porn bills

Also Tuesday, the Assembly approved its bill criminalizing revenge porn, with supporters saying they wanted Wisconsin to become the third state to take that stand. The measure passed on a voice vote with little dissent.

The bill is meant to curb people from posting photos or videos of their former partners after a relationship goes sour. Once explicit images have been posted on the Internet, they can be all but impossible to remove because they are quickly copied and posted on an array of websites.

“Once it’s on the Internet, it’s there forever,” Vos said. “You can’t really take it back.”

California and New Jersey are the only states to ban revenge porn, said the bill’s sponsor, Rep. John Spiros (R-Marshfield). New Jersey’s ban has been on the books for about a decade, while California recently passed its law.

“We’re trying to head this off,” Spiros said.

Some Democrats raised concerns the measure would not withstand court challenge. They wanted to alter the bill to include a requirement that someone who distributes material intentionally be held criminally liable. Republicans rejected that idea.

Currently, it is against the law to take a picture or video of a person in the nude without their consent.

But there is no prohibition against distributing those photos and videos once they’ve been taken.

The bill toughens the law to make it a misdemeanor to reproduce or distribute photos or video of someone who is nude or engaged in sexually explicit behavior without that person’s consent. Those who do so could be fined up to $10,000 and jailed for up to nine months.

There are exceptions for law enforcement officers, for people who reproduce such photos to report on a crime or assist with the investigation of a crime, for news media and for adults who distribute pictures of their minor children that are otherwise legal.

The bill now goes to the Senate.

Education measures

In other action Tuesday, the Senate approved on voice votes two education bills to increase the number of high school math and science credits required for graduation and to give districts more flexibility to contract out for substitute teachers and paraprofessionals to work with special education students. The bills now go to the Assembly.

Currently, Wisconsin has some of the lowest graduation requirements in the country, mandating that students need only two years of math and two years of science to get a diploma. By comparison, students need four years of English to graduate. Many other states require at least three years of science and some require four years of math.

According to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, 45% of districts require more than the state minimum credit requirements in math; only 37% require more than the state’s minimum credit requirements in science.

“Based on college remediation rates and what we hear from employers, too many of our students are not graduating high school with an expected mastery of math and science concepts,” said Jennifer Kammerud, a lobbyist for the DPI, who testified in support of the bill.

The second bill makes the cost of contracting for a substitute teacher or paraprofessional for special education services eligible for state special education aid, which could free up resources for other students, according to Disability Rights Wisconsin.

Erin Richards of the Journal Sentinel staff contributed to this article.

State lawmakers pass Internet privacy, ‘revenge porn’ bills - Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

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