Bill seeks to balance employee privacy with intellectual property protection

Today’s cloud computing services, social media platforms and mobile computing devices are powerful tools for personal and business use. However, as employees access these services while at work, many uncomfortable situations may arise for companies.

For example, do Missouri employers have a right to access their employees’ online accounts? Can employers require their staff to provide username and password information for online services created for work purposes? Can you punish an employee who saves proprietary business information to a personal data cloud service?

House Bill 120 seeks to clarify Missouri law on these matters. Sponsored by Rep. Charlie Davis, R-Webb City, the bill both protects employees’ privacy while empowering employers to safeguard their intellectual property and technology investments.

For employees, the bill would prohibit companies from requesting or requiring personal online account passwords from their workers or job applicants. Employers also could not penalize, discipline or choose not to hire workers who do not disclose their personal account information.

For businesses, House Bill 120 would clarify that employers are authorized to require workers to divulge password information that unlocks devices or accounts paid for or provided by the employer. The bill also makes it clear that employees can be punished for transferring confidential business information to their personal accounts. Businesses would also retain the right to block access to websites, investigate employees online and monitor activity on devices paid for by the employer.

The Missouri House Committee on Emerging Issues listened to testimony on the bill on Feb. 2. The bill has bipartisan support, with Rep. Mary Nichols, a Democrat from Maryland Heights, signing on as a cosponsor.

The National Conference on State Legislatures is tracking similar legislation being considered in state capitols across the country. The organization reports that online password bills are pending in at least 28 states. Louisiana, Maine, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Tennessee and Wisconsin have all enacted some form of online password legislation since 2012.

For more information on this issue, contact Brian Bunten, assistant general counsel and director of legislative affairs, at bbunten@mochamber.com or by phone at 573-634-3511.

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The Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry understands that the quality of life in our state depends on quality jobs for Missourians. To that end, we have one simple mission: to protect and advance Missouri business.

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