Personal emails win privacy in Texas House vote

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By Paul J. Weber

Texas employers could not compel workers to reveal personal text messages or hand over email passwords under a bill given preliminary approval Thursday in a divided House vote.

Democratic state Rep. Helen Giddings said her measure gives Texas workers the same social media protections provided in several other states. The bill prohibits employers from asking job applicants or employees for passwords to access their Facebook, Twitter or other personal accounts.

Yet the case to strengthen personal privacy in the office was not enough to win over every lawmaker.

State Rep. Jason Villalba led the opposition to the bill, which the Dallas Republican said would provide "safe harbor" for employees to steal proprietary information at the workplace through their personal accounts.

Republican Larry Phillips also tried derailing the measure, which he called a disincentive for companies to do business in the state. The Texas Association of Business and banking lobbyists are among those who opposed the bill.

"This will crush technology throughout the state of Texas," Villalba said.

The bill passed 79-61. It still needs final clearance in the House before moving to the Senate.

No specific penalties are spelled out for employers who would violate the law. Giddings said her bill simply catches up with the times, and tea party members of the House came to her defense, saying they applauded the protection of constitutional rights to privacy.

"I believe my employees have an expectation of privacy," Republican state Rep. Tim Kleinschmidt said.

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