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White Introduces Bill to Protect Privacy of Facebook, Twitter Users from Employers

State Rep. Jesse White introduced legislation to ban the practice because he said it is an invasion of fundamental privacy rights.

is seeking to prohibit employers from requiring social media users to reveal user names and passwords as a condition of employment.

White said he has introduced legislation—H.B. 2332—to ban the practice because he said it is an invasion of fundamental privacy rights.

"The widespread use of Facebook and Twitter has opened a whole new can of worms in the employment sector and allows companies to snoop in their employees' personal lives like never before," said White, D-Cecil. "But, employers should not be abusing the tight job market to put employees or prospective employees in an uncomfortable situation where they are forced to 'friend' the company by giving away personal details about themselves and others.

The legislator added: "It's a dangerous slippery slope. What's next? Asking for the keys to a person's house in a job interview? Going through their drawers?”

White said Maryland became the first state to ban the practice in April, after an incident in which a corrections officer complained that the state Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services sought his password to search personal Facebook posts during a re-certification interview.

Following Maryland's lead, at least 15 pieces of legislation banning the practice have been introduced in 11 other states and the U.S. Congress, including California, Delaware, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, South Carolina and Washington.

White added that companies open themselves to lawsuits by this practice because viewing an individual’s private profile may uncover membership in a protected class that the applicant may not wish to disclose publically.

In this case, he said, the employer now is privy to sensitive and protected personal information which increases their exposure to discrimination lawsuits.

"There are existing, time-tested and effective screening methods available to companies to secure quality employees, and potential employees should use always use caution about what they post online," White explained. "However, this type of access could conceivably give employers information they could never ask about otherwise under federal law, such as whether you are pregnant or terminally ill."

The lawmaker emphasized that his bill does not restrict an employer's right to maintain workplace policies or monitor an employee's use of electronic communications devices, the Internet, social media or email accounts while at work.

What do you think? Tell us in the comments!

Dean Beattie June 16, 2012 at 04:33 AM
@ Roger, I think the issue is more so the fact that an employer is asking for that information. You may or may not post anything that is questionable. You could make the argument that if you don't post anything questionable then why not give up the information. If I were to get called for an interview and during the interview the potential employer remarks that they googled my name and found one of my web sites and noticed that I have several galleries in my client proofing area that are password protected and wanted the password, I would simply tell them no. If asked why I won't give up that info I'd politely explain that some brides that I work with ask to have some "boudoir" type images done as a gift for their future husband on their wedding night and that those images are no ones business but mine and my clients. If I don't get the job because someone doesn't want to respect my privacy, and my clients, they are most likely not someone I want to work for. The point I'm trying to make is you don't have to post questionable material to want keep it private. People that join photo sharing web sites like Flickr just so they can share photos of their kids and family or vacation photos with relatives or friends that live far way and want only those people to see them shouldn't be forced to give up personal information just so someone can snoop.
Kristobal Courts June 16, 2012 at 08:12 AM
I'm pretty sure this law, at least in NJ.... It should be in PA... nationwide to be honest. http://www.nj-court-info.com/
Roger June 17, 2012 at 12:00 AM
Dean, I understand your concern about a client issue. I know some photo hosting sites do include a "client only" section that is password protected (e.g. Zenfolio). Other sections are open to the public, IF the user chooses. The issue here is not about those "client only" features, rather the primary social media of blogs, FaceBook, Twitter. The process of hiring a new employee costs a company lots of money. This is all overhead expense. It produces neither a produce or service that can be sold. What is even more costly is hiring the wrong person. What is missing from the discussion is the level of employee. If the intended hire is going to put bolts through a hole, fasten a nut, then tighten, and move to the next part, that is one thing. But, if an intended hire is a middle manager, for example, one who is going to take responsibility for making independent decisions, assess work quality, hire other people, and be a significant exposure for the business, that is quite another thing. The primary issue with the first person, will they show up for work and be reliable. The primary issue with the second person, what is their character, what motivates them, and what do they believe. If these qualities are not aligned with the company, then it is not a good fit. The HR folks need to use everything they can to learn about this person. Character references don't have much credibility. (continued)
Roger June 17, 2012 at 12:10 AM
I think what is at stake here is persona. Far too many people want to assume one persona for personal life, another for business life. This life of duplicity lasts only so long before it starts to crumble. Seeing what is happening in a person's life, reading their thoughts and ideas, and finding out what is truly important helps break through this life of duplicity. I am a small business owner, and know many others. We provide services (not products). Many have a rule, don't work for family or friends. Why? Oh, they dance around the question, but in the end, when the haze clears, the real reason is they do not wish to be transparent. They want to hold one persona as a person, but hold another as a business owner. Personally, I think this creates far more problems that it solves. I work for many friends, and the relationship is both personal and business -- works well. I try to always be who I am, whether in my house, a public place, with a small group, or wherever. I think this discussion about access to other parts of their life means the applicant wishes to hide something. They want to hold one persona in their place of employment, and portray a different one on FB. Eventually, this duplicity will flush itself out, and may have negative consequences for both sides.
Dean Beattie June 17, 2012 at 03:34 AM
@Roger - You make some really good points and I understand and agree with what you're saying. But, where does the line get drawn? Will we ever have any privacy left?

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