Maryland will become the first state to ban employers from asking for social media passwords of job applicants and workers to protect their privacy.
The General Assembly passed a measure this weekend that was supported by the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland and opposed by the state Chamber of Commerce. It is expected to be signed into law by Gov. Martin O’Malley (D).
Employers are prohibited from asking many private questions about religion and other views and to require applicants and workers to give up their passwords, said Melissa Goemann, legislative director of the ACLU of Maryland.
“Our state has trailblazed a new frontier in protecting freedom of expression in the digital age and has created a model for other states to follow,” she said.
The ACLU took up the issue after Robert Collins, a then-Division of Correction officer, was required to give up his Facebook password during his recertification interview. Collins said he had felt compelled to surrender the password to the investigator, who then logged on to his account and read his private messages.
Collins, who now is a nursing student, hailed the action by the legislature.
“I’m glad the state legislature decided to protect the privacy of Maryland citizens,” Collins said. “My hope is that other state legislatures and Congress follow Maryland’s example and pass comprehensive legislation and protect the privacy of all citizens.”
The Maryland Chamber of Commerce opposed the prohibition because the bills did not acknowledge there could be legitimate issues for some employers to want to review applicants’ or workers’ social media messages, said employment and labor lawyer Elizabeth Torphy-Donzella of the Baltimore-based Shawe Rosenthal LLP law firm, which advised the chamber on the issue.
Nobody wants others reading their private messages, but the chamber hoped to find a “middle ground” that also would protect employers with legitimate interests in reading the messages, Torphy-Donzella said.