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The Dominos Have Begun To Fall: Statutory Protection for Facebook Passwords

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The Dominos Have Begun To Fall: Statutory Protection for Facebook Passwords

In March, the revelation that the Maryland Department of Corrections was requiring prospective employees to provide their Facebook passwords during their interviews touched off a firestorm of controversy in the press.  In response, senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Charles Schumer (D-NY) asked the Department of Justice and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to determine whether the practice violated any current federal laws, with the intent of introducing legislation to make it illegal, if it is not already.

State governments moved more quickly and last week, Maryland became the first state to sign into law a prohibition against employers requiring applicants to provide access to social media accounts as a condition of employment.  Many other states, including Illinois, California, Minnesota, Michigan, New Yorkand Massachusetts, have similar bills pending.  The federal government followed suit last week, when Reps. Elliot Engel (D-NY) and Jan Schakowski (D-IL) introduced the Social Networking Online Protection Act, which, if it becomes law, would prohibit current or former employers from demanding a username or password to a social networking account.  Violations of the proposed federal law would subject an employer to a $10,000 civil penalty.

While it is questionable how widespread this practice is (and its advisability for employers is certainly debatable), employers need to keep current on the laws in each state in which they have operations to ensure that they are complying with current legal standards.