News Column

Senate: Jobs, Schools Can't Ask for Social Media Passwords

Oct. 26, 2012

Michael L. Diamond

Social Media Passwords

New Jersey lawmakers, faced with whether to prevent employers from asking job candidates for access to their social media accounts, gave a response that any Facebook user would understand: Like.

Employers and colleges no longer could ask prospective employees or students to turn over their login information before they hire or accept them, according to a bill approved unanimously by the Senate on Thursday.

The bill is designed to protect residents who might otherwise worry that a photo taken of them, say, in a drunken stupor and posted on Facebook will disqualify them from a job or school.

"This is a huge invasion of privacy that takes 'Big Brother' to a whole new level," Assemblyman John Burzichelli, D-Gloucester, said in a prepared statement. "It's really no different than asking someone to turn over a key to their house."

The issue has gained attention during the past two years as more people have opened accounts on Facebook, Twitter and other social networks, documenting their daily thoughts and lives. It has blurred the line between personal and professional so much so that some companies may be tempted to scan a candidate's social network activity to gauge whether they are qualified for the job.

It prompted Maryland and Illinois to pass a law to prohibit the practice. And Facebook itself said users who share their password violates the company's Statement of Rights and Responsibilities.

"You shouldn't be forced to share your private information and communications just to get a job," the company said. "And as the friend of a user, you shouldn't have to worry that your private information or communications will be revealed to someone you don't know ... just because that user is looking for a job."

The New Jersey bill would fine employers and schools up to $1,000 for the first violation, $2,500 for each subsequent violation, along with attorneys fees and court costs.

The bill, also approved by the Assembly, awaits the signature of Gov. Chris Christie. He has not said if he supports it.

Not everyone thinks it's the best idea. Christopher Mills, an attorney with Fisher & Phillips in New Providence, said he already advises employers not to ask for candidates' social network passwords because they might find answers to questions -- such as age or religion -- that they aren't legally allowed to ask.

"All of these Legislatures that are enacting bills ... are prohibiting something that just isn't getting done all that often," he said. "It's the proverbial killing a flea with an elephant gun."

Source: (c)2012 the Asbury Park Press (Neptune, N.J.). Distributed by MCT Information Services.

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