April 10, 2012 at 3:31 PM ET
In the first ruling of its kind in the United States, Maryland's General Assembly passed a bill prohibiting employers from demanding employee user names and passwords to Facebook and other social networks, the Baltimore Sun reports. It currently awaits Gov. Martin O'Malley's signature.
"We are proud of Maryland for standing up for the online privacy of employees and the friends and family members they stay in touch with online," Melissa Goemann, legislative director of ACLU of Maryland, said in a statement. "Our state has trail-blazed a new frontier in protecting freedom of expression in the digital age, and has created a model for other states to follow."
Employers and colleges demanding Facebook passwords or other inappropriate access to social network profiles gained national attention last month after Bob Sullivan of msnbc.com's Red Tape Chronicles first broke the story of this not uncommon practice. Since then, representatives in several states have been making noise about legislation similar to Maryland's bill.
The ACLU got the ball rolling a year prior, when the ACLU state chapter posted a YouTube video featuring the personal account by Robert Collins, who was asked to hand over his password by his employer, the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services (DPSCS), and was told this was standard procedure. Following the viral video stink, the DPSC dropped the practice, but the ACLU didn't drop the subject.
"I am excited to know that our esteemed policymakers in Maryland found it important to protect the privacy of Maryland's citizens," Collins said in a statement after the bill passed unanimously in the state Senate and by a wide margin in Congress. "I believe privacy should not be an alternative in lieu of securing employment, but a fundamental right."
In March, two U.S. senators asked federal agencies to look into whether employers and colleges that are asking for access to individual Facebook profiles are breaking the law. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., made the request along with Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., who said he's writing legislation that would outlaw employers from requesting Facebook passwords.
Erin Egan, Facebook's chief privacy officer on policy, recently decried the practice of employers asking for access to Facebook accounts. She went on to say that such requests are a direct violation of Facebook's terms of service and "it also potentially exposes the employer who seeks this access to unanticipated legal liability."