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California may ban employers from asking for Facebook passwords

The state Assembly passes a bill that would make anything workers designate as private on social networks off-limits to employers.

May 11, 2012|By Jessica Guynn, Los Angeles Times

SAN FRANCISCO — California is one step closer to becoming one of the first states to ban companies from asking job seekers and workers for their user names and passwords on Facebook and other social networking websites.

The state Assembly on Thursday passed a bill sponsored by Assemblywoman Nora Campos (D-San Jose) that would make anything workers designate as private on social networks off-limits to employers. The bill, which passed the Assembly without a dissenting vote, now goes to the California Senate.

Assembly Bill 1844 would not prevent employers from checking social networking websites for information that's publicly available. Employers frequently use social media to screen job applicants, but to avoid exposing themselves to liability, they generally stop short of asking to see private information, employment lawyers say.

Campos acknowledges that the practice of asking for such passwords is not widespread and that her bill is more of a preventive measure. It's unclear whether it's even legal to ask private-sector employees for access to their social networking accounts in California, where privacy is written into the state Constitution. The bill does not apply to the public sector such as law enforcement and security agencies.

"As our culture changes around social media, our laws need to reflect those changes, and we must make sure we protect employees' privacy," Campos said.

The issue captured the national spotlight when a Maryland state correctional officer returning from a leave of absence was asked for his Facebook user name and password. He filed a complaint with the American Civil Liberties Union.

State Sen. Leland Yee (D-San Francisco) has sponsored another such bill, and eight other states have introduced similar legislation.

At the federal level, House and Senate Democrats have unveiled a pair of bills that would forbid employers from requiring job seekers or workers to hand over their social networking passwords as a condition of employment. The bills would allow state and federal agencies to ask for such passwords if the person in question works with classified information.

Facebook has not taken a position on the California bills, but it welcomed similar legislation in Maryland.

jessica.guynn@latimes.com

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