ANNAPOLIS, MD (RNN) - The nation's first bill to keep employers from demanding social media passwords from employees and prospective employees was passed in Maryland last week, a response from state legislators to increasing reports of the practice.
The state's House of Representatives and Senate voted almost unanimously on the bipartisan bill, which prohibits employers from asking for usernames and passwords for personal social media accounts.
"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," said Melissa Goemann, legislative director of the Maryland branch of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
"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," she said.
The ACLU, which has made online privacy rights one of its central issues, got involved in Maryland's fight over social media privacy after Division of Corrections Officer Robert Collins approached the group for assistance.
Collins was asked for his social media usernames and passwords while being recertified to work with the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services. Although Collins said the information was optional, he told the ACLU that he felt he had no choice in the matter.
"I am excited to know that our esteemed policymakers in Maryland found it important to protect the privacy of Maryland's citizens," Collins said. "I believe privacy should not be an alternative in lieu of securing employment, but a fundamental right."
On behalf of Facebook, Chief Privacy Officer Erin Egan told users in a blog post back in March that allowing employers to get access to a person's Facebook profile "undermines the privacy expectations and the security of both the user and the user's friends."
Further, she wrote that the practice violated Facebook's Statement of Rights and Responsibilities and opened employees up to discrimination claims through information that they might learn through the website.
Advocates hope that the bill in Maryland will serve as a tipping point to widen online privacy rights nationwide, but so far the federal government has yet to move on the issue.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-CT, is writing a national version of the social media privacy bill, according to POLITICO. In late March he and Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-NY, called for the federal government to investigate the practice.
"In an age where more and more of our personal information - and our private social interactions - are online, it is vital that all individuals be allowed to determine for themselves what personal information they want to make public and protect personal information from their would-be employers," Schumer said.
Privacy issues have been circulating throughout the media in recent months. In January, the Supreme Court ruled that a defendant's privacy rights were violated when a GPS device was placed on his car. The court mentioned, but declined to go into, other privacy issues associated with law enforcement access to social media.
Last week, the ACLU also released results from a national federal information request to law enforcement agencies which found that many local agencies track cell phones without getting a warrant or showing probable cause.
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