April 21, 2012, 7:52 AM — Maryland will likely become the first state to ban employers from asking for applicants' log-in information on Facebook and other social media sites.
State lawmakers passed the measure by overwhelming margins earlier this month. Now, Gov. Martin O'Malley just has to sign the bill.
Although employers have been checking applicants' public social media profiles for years, companies lately have been demanding access to private social media activity as well. Facebook drew attention to this issue in March, vowing to work with lawmakers or take legal action to protect users' privacy.
"If you are a Facebook user, you should never have to share your password, let anyone access your account, or do anything that might jeopardize the security of your account or violate the privacy of your friends," Facebook's chief privacy officer, Erin Egan, wrote in a blog post.
Since then, several states have proposed legislation similar to the bill that passed in Maryland. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, nine other states have considered laws against Facebook password snooping. However, no other measures have passed out of committee in their respective legislatures.
Meanwhile, U.S. Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Charles Schumer have called for investigations at the federal level. They want the U.S. Department of Justice and U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to see whether demanding employee passwords violates federal law. The senators said they will also draft legislation to protect social media passwords but, so far, they haven't done so.
Employers who snoop on applicants' social media activity don't just violate the user's privacy. As Blumenthal, Schumer, and others have pointed out, employers may learn things about an applicant that they aren't allowed to consider during the hiring process, such as age, religion, marital status, or sexual orientation.
The practice is far too thorny to continue unhindered. It's only a matter of time before its gets completely shot down at the state or federal levels. Kudos to Maryland's lawmakers for quickly taking the first step.