The state of Maryland just passed the first bill in the nation that bans employers from asking for the social media passwords of job applicants and employees. In a statement that the ACLU of Maryland issued about the bill’s passage, Melissa Goemann, Legislative Director of ACLU of Maryland, said, “We are proud of Maryland for standing up for the online privacy of employees and the friends and family members they stay in touch with online. Our state has trail-blazed a new frontier in protecting freedom of expression in the digital age, and has created a model for other states to follow.”
The ACLU of Maryland helped Robert Collins to make headlines after his employer, the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, asked for his Facebook password during a reinstatement interview after a leave of absence following a death in his family. Feeling that he had no choice — your privacy or your livelihood? Really? — Collins turned over his password, but, in his words, “I felt violated, I felt disrespected, I felt that my privacy was invaded. But not only my privacy, the privacy of my friends and that of my family that didn’t ask for that.” And, on his way out of the interview, he called the ACLU of Maryland.
It turns out that we weren’t the only ones who were horrified by DOC’s demands. The Maryland State Legislature took up the case, and with support from ACLU of Maryland, passed the nation’s first-ever bill barring employers from asking for the social media passwords of job applicants and employees! Now, job applicants in Maryland will no longer have to prep for the interview question, “Can I have the password to your private information?”
But this issue is far from resolved. In states across the country, employers are demanding applicants’ and employers’ social networking passwords or requiring them to friend, say, an HR manager with no privacy settings, and school officials, teachers, and coaches are demanding the same of their students and student-athletes.
Fortunately, state lawmakers across the country see the red flags. They get that people are entitled to their private lives and that an employer or a school official going fishing in one’s private social media account is sort of like an employer or a school official opening up one’s snail mail to see if there’s anything interesting inside. Right now, there are bills to prohibit employers/educators from accessing applicants’/employees’/students’ private social networking accounts pending in Illinois, California, Minnesota, Michigan, and Massachusetts. A similar bill may soon be introduced in New Jersey, and Illinois’ bill has already passed its House! If you live in one of those states, please urge your legislators to support these bills, and if you don’t, you can encourage your state legislators to introduce similar legislation.
Plus, no matter where you live, you can urge Congress to pass similar legislation. Demand your dotRights (you can keep up with the campaign on Twitter and Facebook!). After all, your online privacy should be up to you, not the state you live in or your employer or school’s whims.