States to Employers: Don’t Go Snooping Around Facebook

While a federal law banning employers from asking for social media passwords didn't go through, half a dozen states now ban the practice.

If there’s one thing everyone has an opinion on, it’s Facebook—specifically regarding privacy.

And with 2013 bringing in a bevy of newly enacted laws, it appears a number of states agree that employers shouldn’t intrude on the privacy of Facebook users. More details:

The catalyst: In March 2012, an Associated Press story regarding a move by some employers to vet potential workers using social media sites drew a significant amount of attention. Some employers even asked for passwords. “To me, that’s still invasive. I can appreciate the desire to learn more about the applicant, but it’s still a violation of people’s personal privacy,” said Robert Collins, an employee of the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services who was asked by his employer to provide his Facebook password during a reinstatement interview.

The reaction: After a popular outcry, Facebook’s chief privacy officer for policy, Erin Egan, put employers on notice. “We don’t think employers should be asking prospective employees to provide their passwords because we don’t think it’s the right thing to do,” she said. “But it also may cause problems for the employers that they are not anticipating. For example, if an employer sees on Facebook that someone is a member of a protected group (e.g. over a certain age, etc.) that employer may open themselves up to claims of discrimination if they don’t hire that person.” While congressional action was encouraged, including by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), the Password Protection Act of 2012 ultimately did not reach a vote. So a number of states took up the issue.

The status: Now, nearly a year after the controversy first emerged, six states have passed laws barring the practice. Laws in Michigan, New Jersey, Maryland, and Delaware took effect last year, and measures in California and Illinois became law on Tuesday. At the time of the California bill’s passage, Democratic Assemblywoman Nora Campos said this: “When we seek employment, we would never be expected to provide our prospective employer with personal information, such as family photos. The same expectations must be applied to social media, where a user’s personal profile is just that—personal.”

Would you ever ask your own applicants for social media passwords? Why or why not? Let us know in the comments.


Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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