The Maryland legislature has become the first state legislature to pass a bill forbidding employers from demanding – or even asking for – social media (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn) usernames and passwords from employees or prospective employees. See Maryland To Ban Employers From Asking For Facebook, Twitter Passwords; Maryland Bill Bans Employers From Facebook.
Other states (Massachusetts, California, Illinois, and New Jersey) are not far behind. See Social Media Password Privacy Bills.
In Massachusetts, for example, a similar bill was sponsored by Representative Cheryl A. Coakley-Rivera, with the support of over 18 other State Representatives, including Representative Lori Ehrlich (who is also a co-sponsor of the Massachusetts noncompete bill still pending before the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development).
The operative language of the Massachusetts social media bill (“An Act relative to social networking and employment”) is as follows:
It shall be unlawful for any employer to ask any employee or prospective employee to provide any password or other related account information in order to gain access to the employee’s or prospective employee’s account or profile on a social networking website or electronic mail. No employee or prospective employee shall be required to provide access to an employer for a social networking site.
The bill also makes clear that it does “not apply to any employer who obtains information about a prospective employee or an employee that is in the public domain or obtained in compliance with this section” and does “not limit an employer’s right to promulgate and maintain lawful workplace policies governing the use of the employer’s electronic equipment, including policies regarding internet use, social networking site use, and electronic mail use.”
Whether these bills are passed by the respective legislators and governors remains to be seen. Interestingly, the US Congress has rejected a similar effort. See Congress Decides to Allow Employers to Demand Your Facebook Password. If they do pass, however, they will certainly raise some interesting issues (beyond the obvious) given the trade secrets concerns that have been in the news lately. See Employers May Own Employee’s Social Media Accounts: Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and YouTube.