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Missouri Senate panel revives password protection efforts

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A Missouri Senate committee is considering legislation designed to further boost online privacy.

The bill would forbid employers, landlords and educational institutions from requiring current employees, renters, and students – as well as applicants – to provide user names and passwords of their email and social media accounts.

Anyone who violates the ban could be held liable in civil lawsuits. The bill is sponsored by Sen. Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia.

“What we’re trying to avoid is a scenario where an employer, an educational institution, or a landlord could say, ‘if you don’t give me the password to your account, then we’re going to take some kind of action, i.e., not give you the job or not give you the house,’” he told the Senate committee on general laws.

Sara Baker of the Missouri ACLU testified in favor of the bill.

“We think this is really the 21st century equivalent of saying someone cannot go through your diary, someone cannot go through your mail – expectations that we would all have in our private lives,” she said.

The protections would only apply to those 18 years of age and older, meaning K-12 schools could access underage students’ private accounts without being held liable. Another exception in the bill would allow authorities to investigate allegations of criminal misconduct – against both teachers and students – by accessing a student’s email and social media accounts.

An identical bill died in the Missouri Senate on the final day of last year’s legislative session, and similar efforts dating back to 2010 also fell short.

Follow Marshall on Twitter:@MarshallGReport

Marshal was a political reporter for St. Louis Public Radio until 2018.

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