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Md. employers cannot collect Facebook passwords

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Maryland employers: hands off your employees’ Facebook passwords.

Employers cannot require workers and job applicants to turn over passwords to private social media accounts as a condition of employment, state legislators decided last week in the passage of a first-of-its-kind bill.

Maryland is the first state to pass such a measure; similar proposals are pending in California, Illinois and Michigan. Employment law experts say the move sets important limits on employers’ reach when it comes to the privacy of their employees — and that of friends and family in their online networks — at a time social media plays an ever-increasing role in people’s personal and professional lives.

SB 433 (HB 964), which needs the signature of Gov. Martin O’Malley to become law, was not part of the batch of bills the governor signed Tuesday and O’Malley’s office said it did not know if and when it would land on the governor’s desk.

The bill doesn’t mention social media platforms by name, but the issue surfaced last year after Robert Collins, a former officer with the state’s Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, complained about being asked to provide his Facebook log-in information during a recertification interview. The department in 2010 began asking prospective employees for user names and passwords to Facebook accounts as part of a background check to screen employees for gang affiliations, but suspended the practice after the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland filed a complaint on Collins’s behalf, claiming the practice violated his personal privacy.

A second bill, SB 434 (HB 746), which would have outlawed universities from requiring students and college applicants to disclose user names and passwords for personal electronic accounts, passed in the Senate but died in the House. The bill came on the heels of a growing number of universities hiring third-party vendors to monitor student athletes’ Tweets and Facebook posts by having students install social media monitoring software onto personal electronic devices.

Brad Shear, a Bethesda attorney who worked with state Sen. Ronald Young’s (D) office on both bills, said banning employers from collecting password-protected information is a win for both employees and companies.

“It not only protects employees’ privacy, it also protects employers,” said Shear, who in 2010 helped draft Maryland’s election laws regulating candidates’ use of social media pages. “It protects [employers] from having to create new legal duties and liabilities and compliance costs.”

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