Maryland one step away from prohibiting employers from requesting social media logins

Here and Now

Earlier this month Maryland’s legislature approved a law that would prohibit employers from asking current or prospective employees to hand over social media logins.

The bill is currently in the hands of Gov. Martin O’Malley. Aides say O’Malley is still reviewing legislation and has not determined if he’ll sign this particular bill. 

The issue first became news last year when the ACLU took up the case of Maryland corrections officer Robert Collins. According to Catherine Ho, capital business reporter for the Washington Post, Collins was asked for his Facebook username and password during a recertification interview with the department of corrections.

“He ended up handing it over. He felt like he was pressured to do that, but he was very uncomfortable with it,” Ho said. “Later he got hooked up with the Maryland ACLU. The ACLU was the organization that got this into the public spotlight. They wrote a letter to the public safety secretary saying this policy is a violation of privacy, and not just of Mr. Collins, but of his friends and family members who may appear on his Facebook page.”

While it is unknown how frequently employers ask for social media passwords during the application process, more cases have been unearthed since the ACLU first brought Collins’ case to light. 

But the Maryland Chamber of Commerce is opposed to the law. They say social media postings can help weed out bad job applicants. 

“They say an employer should know some of this stuff before they hire someone. Whether it comes from their Facebook or their Twitter, they want to know more about them,” Ho said. 

The Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional services has praised its social media screening policy. The department said they reviewed 2,689 applicants over the course of a year, and denied employment to 7, some of whom had “utilized social media applications which contained pictures of them showing verified gang signs.”

Bradley Shear, an attorney who specializes in social media and is based in Maryland, has come out strongly against employers asking for social media logins. In an interview with MSNBC’s Bob Sullivan, Shear called for a federal ban on the practice.

“After 9/11, we have a culture where some people think it’s OK for the government to be this involved in our lives, that it’s OK to turn everything over to the government,” he said. “But it’s not. We still have privacy rights in this country, and we still have a Constitution.”

Last week, Democratic Senators Chuck Schumer of New York and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut asked Attorney General Eric Holder to investigate whether asking for login information during job interviews violates federal law.

“This is something that a lot of states are talking about right now,” said Ho. “I think it may be a little early to be talking about federal law. But I do think this is something that is on the minds of a lot of legislators, a lot of employers are talking about it. I don’t see the issue going away anytime soon. I think its only going to become bigger and bigger.”

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