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Maryland passes bills banning employers from seeking online passwords

April 10, 2012|By Michelle Maltais
  • The average Facebook profile can be overflowing with information that could be used to piece together a detailed composite of a job applicant.
The average Facebook profile can be overflowing with information that… (Dan Kitwood / Getty Images )

Maryland recently gave a big "dislike" to employers asking for social media passwords, becoming the first state to pass a bill banning the practice.

The state Senate and House last week passed their versions of the bill that prohibits bosses from “requesting or requiring that an employee or applicant disclose any user name, password, or other means for accessing a personal account or service through specified electronic communications devices; prohibiting an employer from taking, or threatening to take, specified disciplinary actions for an employee's refusal to disclose specified password and related information; prohibiting an employee from downloading specified information or data.”

"We're really excited," said Melissa Goemann, legislative director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland, of the bill's passage in an interview with the Baltimore Sun. "We just think this is a really positive development, because the technology for social media is expanding every year, and we think this sets a really good precedent for limiting how much your privacy can be exposed when you use these mediums." 

The respective bills passed unanimously in the Senate, 49-0, and by a huge margin in the House, 129-8.

Maryland’s ACLU chapter initially raised concerns when it took up the case of state Department of Corrections officer Robert Collins, Goemann said.

Collins sought the chapter's assistance after being asked for his Facebook password in a re-certification interview with the corrections department, Goemann told the Sun. He called the group as he walked to the car after the interview.

"Collins felt he had no choice but to provide his password, even though he knew it was not right, because he needed the job to support his family," the ACLU said in a statement about the bill's passage. "Collins had to sit there while the [interviewer] logged on to his Facebook account and reviewed his messages, wall posts and photos."

His story and a smattering of others last summer sparked public outrage, which was revived recently after the Associated Press published its story on the practice.

Soon after, stories, editorials and comments shot across the Internet about whether the practice was even legal, prompting a Connecticut senator to vow to introduce federal legislation. Soon after, Facebook responded rather sternly with a note from Erin Egan, the company’s privacy chief, potentially threatening legal action against employers who violate the company’s terms of use. Later that day, the statement was modified somewhat.  

Measures similar to Maryland’s have been introduced in Illinois, Michigan and California.

While the bills in Maryland don’t explicitly address “social media” – they refer instead to “means for accessing a personal account or service through specified electronic communications devices,” which could be interpreted more broadly – California’s does.

Assemblymember Nora Campos introduced Assembly Bill 1844 in February, to add language to the existing Labor Code.

It reads: “For purposes of a claim of negligent hiring, an employer does not fail to exercise reasonable care to discover whether a potential employee is unfit or incompetent by the employer's failure to search or monitor social media before hiring the employee...An employer shall not require an employee or prospective employee to disclose a user name or account password to access social media used by the employee or prospective employee."

It goes on to define social media as “an electronic medium where users may create and view user-generated content, including uploading or downloading videos or still photographs, blogs, video blogs, podcasts, or instant messages.”

The California bill is making its way through the legislature, with amendments being made and hearings scheduled for later this month.


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Maryland bans employers from seeking social media passwords

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