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Bill would ban employers from seeking Facebook passwords from workers, job seekers

Maryland lawmakers pass bill that would also prohibit employers from retaliating against those who refuse access

Maryland's General Assembly Monday passed legislation that bars employers in the state from asking workers and job seekers for access to their personal social media accounts as a condition of employment.

The bill now has to be signed into law by Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, whose plans are unclear, according to a report in the Baltimore Sun.

The law would give workers and job seekers the right to refuse an employer's request for the username and password used to access personal pages on Facebook and other social media sites.

It would also prohibit employers from refusing to hire job applicants or take disciplinary action against employees that refuse to provide access to personal social media accounts.

The legislation was introduced in Maryland's House ( House Bill 964) and Senate ( Senate Bill 433) in February and sailed through both chambers.

Maryland's social media privacy protection bill would be the first to become a state law in the U.S. Its passage comes amid growing concerns about employers seeking access to the social media pages of employees and job seekers.

Two federal lawmakers -- Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) -- recently called on the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to investigate what they called a "new disturbing trend" of employers seeking access to social network pages of job applicants.

In an open letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder last month, the two Senators sought an ruling on whether the practice violates the Stored Communication Act or the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.

"Requiring applicants to provide login credentials to secure social media websites and then using those credentials to access private information stored on those sites may be unduly coercive and therefore constitute unauthorized access under both SCA and the CFAA," the two lawmakers noted.

Meanwhile, Facebook itself expressed concern about employers seeking access to the pages of its users.

In a blog post late last month, Facebook said it has seen a "distressing increase" in reports of employers seeking such access to the social media accounts of job applicants.

The company called on its users to resist such requests for usernames or passwords, and noted that providing such access is a violation of Facebook rules.

The move by Maryland lawmakers to pass the law was prompted by reports that a state Division of Corrections (DOC) worker was required to provide his Facebook login credentials during a recertification interview.

According to a description of the incident by the American Civil Liberties Union's Maryland chapter, DOC officer Robert Collins was employed with the Maryland Department of Public Safety when he took a voluntary leave of absence to deal with a personal situation.

When he returned from the leave, his position had been filled so he applied for a comparable position.

During a required recertification review, Collins was asked by the interviewer to provide the password to his Facebook account. Anxious to get the job, the ACLU said Collins provided the information and watched as the interviewer rifled through his wall posts, photos and messages.

Melissa Goemann, legislative director of ACLU of Maryland today lauded lawmakers for passing the bill.

"We think it promises to ensure that job applicants will not have to give up their First Amendment rights" to get a job, she said. "We think [the Maryland statute] would be a good model for other states to follow," Goemann said.

Currently, Illinois, California and Michigan are considering similar legislation, she added.

Jaikumar Vijayan covers data security and privacy issues, financial services security and e-voting for Computerworld. Follow Jaikumar on Twitter at @jaivijayan, or subscribe to Jaikumar's RSS feed . His e-mail address is jvijayan@computerworld.com.

Read more about web 2.0 and web apps in Computerworld's Web 2.0 and Web Apps Topic Center.


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