UPDATE: Maryland Protects Employees’ Facebook Password Privacy

The Maryland State Senate unanimously passed a bill titled, “Labor and Employment – Username and Password Privacy Protection and Exclusions.” If Governor O’Malley signs it, Maryland will become the first state to prohibit employers from requiring potential candidates to provide passwords to their Facebook accounts. The bill, which “Prohibit[s] an employer 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,” covers all internet accounts, such as Twitter and GooglePlus, and applies to all Maryland employers.

It is only fitting that Maryland become the first state to pass such legislation, as it was there that requests for Facebook passwords first made headlines. In 2010, Robert Collins contacted the ACLU of Maryland after he was asked by the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services to hand over his login information. Maryland State Senator Ron Young immediately introduced a bill to prohibit the practice, but it failed to get enough support until this year.

Outrage over the employers requiring job candidates to relinquish their Facebook passwords has only recently received national attention. On March 29th, the House of Representatives voted on an amendment, introduced by Ed Perlmutter (D-CO), to the FCC Process Reform Act, which would have permitted the FCC to ban the practice. The House voted down the amendment at the request of Representative Greg Walden (R-OR), who introduced the Act. Representative Walden, however, was not against the underlying message of the amendment. While he did not believe the FCC was the appropriate regulatory body, Representative Walden stated, “I think it’s awful that employers think they can demand our passwords and can go snooping around.”

The initiative to protect employees’ Facebook passwords on the federal level has bi-partisan support. Republican Representative Patrick McHenry, from North Carolina, has picked up where Perlmutter left off, by drafting legislation that prohibits employers from asking for passwords to internet accounts. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) will introduce a similar bill in the Senate. Even if the House and Senate bills fail to gather enough votes, requiring employees or job candidates to turn over their passwords may still be an illegal practice. Senators Blumenthal and Schumer (D-NY) have asked the Justice Department and the EEOC to determine whether this practice violates federal law.

Facebook itself has taken a strong stance on the topic. In a statement issued on March 23rd, Facebook warned employers of the many ways they can find themselves in hot water if they force a potential new hire to reveal his or her password. For example, employers may open themselves up to claims of discrimination after finding out that the prospective employee is a member of a protected class. The employer may also become responsible for information obtained while reviewing a candidate’s account – such as evidence suggesting the commission of crime.

The message sent by state and federal lawmakers, as well as Facebook itself, should have any employer thinking twice before invading their employees’ privacy. For more information, please visit The Hill and The Fredrick News Post.

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