Maryland Law Makes It Unlawful to Demand Facebook Password

The debate over the cyber-screening continues. It’s big news these days that employers have been asking candidates for their Facebook log-in and passwords. The purpose? These employers claim that they want to screen potential candidates and what better way to find out the real deal with a potential new hire than see what the candidate posts on his or her Facebook page? Well, it’s an idea. The trick, though, is that most candidates are smart enough to restrict access to their social-networking sites.

But people don’t like the idea that employers are demanding passwords. The lawfulness of this practice is questionable. As I wrote previously, the practice of “requesting” an applicant’s Facebook password may constitute a violation of the Stored Communications Act or may give rise to a state common-law claim for intentional interference with contract.

If the practice’s lawfulness is uncertain, its popularity is not–the resounding response has been a hostile one. In fact, there’s been such a pushback against asking for Facebook passwords that even politicians have taken notice. As I wrote last month, some state legislatures are considering laws that would prohibit this type of conduct.

Despite the efforts of two U.S. senators, a proposed bill prohibiting the practice was killed in Congress. But the Maryland General Assembly has had more luck and, yesterday, became the first state to pass legislation prohibiting employers from asking current and prospective employees for their user names and passwords for social-networking sites, such as Facebook, reports the Baltimore Sun. Governor Martin O’Malley has not yet announced his position on the bill.

This development is not entirely surprising in light of the negative publicity given to the Maryland Department of Corrections, which allegedly required applicants to turn over Facebook passwords in order to obtain employment. The ACLU rallied on behalf of the employee and the DOC officially halted the practice. Similar legislation is currently pending in California and Illinois. I imagine it won’t be long before other state legislatures see the introduction of similar bills, so stay tuned.

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