Since the discovery of the use of fire to cook food and heat caves, communities have tended to impose restrictive laws that purport to protect people from one another. It is not a surprise to see states enact laws to regulate cell phone use, Facebook profiles and the internet.
Under a bill awaiting Gov. Chris Christie’s consideration, New Jersey employers would no longer be able to ask current or prospective employees to disclose their user name or password or otherwise grant access to their social media accounts. The bill imposes fines and also authorizes employees to pursue lawsuits for violations.
The Governor has not yet indicated whether he will sign the legislation, which has faced criticism from business groups. However, he did sign a bill granting similar protections to students and applicants of higher education institutions.
Lawmakers are also working to limit the effects of technology use on our roadways. A proposed bill would impose some of the harshest penalties in the country to combat cell phone use behind the wheel, which is linked to a dramatic increase in distracted driving accidents.
The New Jersey cell phone legislation increases the penalties for talking or texting on hand-held device while driving. The fine for a first offense would range from $200-$400 and increase to $400-$600 for a second offense and $600-800 for a third offense. For any third or subsequent offense, the court would have the discretion to suspend the driver’s license for 90 days.
Unlike a Paleolithic law that regulates the use of fire, laws that regulate new technology need to be updated frequently. Unfortunately, this does not always happen and the laws heralded today could have unintended applications in the future.
For instance, Google and other tech companies are calling for updates to the Electronic Communication Privacy Act of 1986. They argue that it fails to address how email is used and stored, raising privacy concerns over when police can obtain access without a subpoena. Similarly, the head of the U.S. Copyright Office recently criticized the country’s copyright system over its inability to address modern concerns, such as cell phone unlocking and digital streaming. The newest part of our copyright law, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, is now over 15 years old.