August 07, 2012, 9:23 PM — Illinois has become the third state in the country to pass a law prohibiting companies from asking employees and job candidates for usernames and passwords to their social media accounts.
The amendment goes into effect Jan. 1 and makes it unlawful to "request or require any employee or prospective employee to provide any password or other related account information" to any social media networks to which they might belong.
The bill does not limit employers from lawfully monitoring employee computers and emails. Nor does it limit them from seeking or reviewing publicly available information about a person from social media sites. The ban on access to worker's social media profiles applies even in situations where a job might require comprehensive background screening.
Illinois follows Maryland and Delaware in passing such a law. Several other states, including California, Massachusetts, Michigan, New York and Washington are considering similar legislation.
The laws are being prompted by what some see as a disturbing trend among employers and educational institutions to ask current and future workers for access to their social media profiles as a condition of employment.
Maryland's bill signed into law by Gov. Martin O'Malley in May, for instance, was prompted by an incident involving a state Division of Corrections worker who was asked to provide his Facebook login credentials during a recertification interview.
The incident drew considerable criticism from the local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which called it a violation of the worker's First Amendment rights to free speech
In a report earlier this year, the Council of State Governments (CSG) recounted another incident in which an elementary school teacher's aide in Michigan was suspended, and then fired, for refusing to provide access to her Facebook account. That request came after a parent reported seeing an inappropriate photo of hers on Facebook.
The teacher has sued the school district for wrongful termination.