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Maryland Passes Bill to Ban Employers Requesting Facebook Passwords

Maryland State House (Photo by Richard Johnstone - Flickr Creative Commons License)

Maryland, the state whose corrections department infamously asked a  job applicant to turn over his Facebook password,  is the first state in the union to pass a law banning the practice, said the Baltimore Sun.

The bill, which was passed unanimously by the state Senate and a wide margin in the House,  is awaiting the signature from Maryland governor Martin O’Mailey. It would prevent employers from asking for passwords for Facebook, Twitter or any other social media accounts.

An amendment that would have banned all U.S. employers from asking for such passwords was defeated in the U.S. House of Representatives.

In a blog post on March 23rd, Facebook Chief Privacy Officer Erin Egan wrote, “you shouldn’t be forced to share your private information and communications just to get a job.” She also said  “We’ll take action to protect the privacy and security of our users, whether by engaging policymakers or, where appropriate, by initiating legal action, including by shutting down applications that abuse their privileges.”  Later the company said that it doesn’t have “any immediate plans to take legal action against any specific employers.”

The Maryland Department of Corrections stopped asking for Facebook passwords in response to a complaint by the American Civil Liberties Union.

Continued spying danger

While the law, which only applies to employers in Maryland,  may protect against employers asking for passwords, it doesn’t guarantee that they won’t have access to what applicants or current employees posts.  To begin with, anything one posts in public is fair game. There are companies that specialize in helping employers dig through public postings on Facebook, Twitter and other social networks to see what employees and applicants are posting. Also, there have been reports of people from personnel offices (as well as college admission offices) asking to friend individuals so that they can see what they’re posting. This law would not protect against this practice.

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