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UPDATED: 'Facebook' privacy bill passes, despite lawsuit fears

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A privacy bill designed to protect workers in the age of social media is headed to Gov. Chris Christie's desk.

The Assembly on Thursday approved A-2878, a bill that would prohibit employers or colleges from requiring applicants to turn over their social media login information.

The bill passed the Senate unanimously in October.

Assemblyman John Burzichelli (D-West Deptford), one of the bill's sponsors, said workers deserve the privacy protections included in the bill.

"In this job market, especially, employers clearly have the upper hand. Demanding this information is akin to coercion when it might mean the difference between landing a job and not being able to put food on the table for your family," said Burzichelli, in a press release. "This is a huge invasion of privacy that takes 'Big Brother' to a whole new level. It's really no different than asking someone to turn over a key to their house."

Despite support in the legislature, the bill has sparked concern in some quarters, due to the potential for new lawsuits.

"What it says in the bill is that the employer cannot in any way require or request that a current or perspective employee disclose whether the employee has a personal account," said Stefanie Riehl, assistant vice president for labor and employment at the New Jersey Business and Industry Association. "So based on that language, we have concerns that if someone had a personal social media account and it came up in a job interview, the employee could face additional liability."

The bill gives employees or applicants the right to sue employers, and Riehl said that could prove costly for employers, even if the claims are without merit.

Marcus Rayner, executive director of the New Jersey Lawsuit Reform Alliance, said it could be particularly harmful for small employers, who don't have the legal resources to fight off such lawsuits, or to pay the court and attorneys fees they could be saddled with should they lose the case.

Rayner said two state legislatures have approved similar social media privacy laws, but neither gives workers the right to sue.

"We would be the first state in the nation to allow a specific right to sue, not only for requiring access to the employees' account, but for asking whether the employee has a social media account," he said.

Rayner said his group and some in the business community have already reached out to Christie asking him to consider a conditional veto of the bill.

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