Thursday, August 2, 2012

Illinois passes law prohibiting employers from asking for social media passwords

Illinois joins the micro-trend of states pursuing legislation (here and here) banning the practice (whether real or apocryphal) of employers asking job candidates for their social media passwords. Of course these laws do not prevent employers from doing Google searches for publicly available social media information so the lesson is to either set your privacy settings to "eleven" or don't post it all. According to this story, Illinois is only the second state to actually pass such legislation.

Illinois Facebook Password Law Bars Employers From Asking For Social Media Logins

CHICAGO -- Seeking to guard the privacy rights of the social networking generation, Illinois is making it illegal for employers to ask job applicants for passwords to their online profiles.

Gov. Pat Quinn signed the law Wednesday at the Illinois Institute of Technology, where several students lamented that online snooping by bosses has caused some to lose out on jobs and forced others to temporarily deactivate their online profiles.

Illinois is only the second state to have such a law on the books, and it leaves no exceptions – even for openings that require thorough background checks.

In their efforts to vet job applicants, some companies and government agencies have started asking for passwords to log in to a prospective employee's accounts on social media sites, such as Facebook and Twitter. Civil liberties groups, social media users and others have criticized the practice as a serious invasion of privacy, likening it to handing over the keys to your house.

"Especially in times like this when there are not a lot of jobs, that puts a lot of pressure on you. It's hard to resist," said Pegah Shabehpour, a 22-year-old architecture student browsing the Internet at the ITT campus library.

"I've heard of some friends deactivating their accounts when they are applying for jobs and once they get a job, reactivating them," she said, though she's never been asked for her passwords.

The governor said it was important to ensure privacy laws keep pace with technology.

"We're dealing with 21st-century issues," Quinn said. "... Privacy is a fundamental right. I believe that and I think we need to fight for that."

The law protects both current employees and prospective hires. But the legislation, which takes effect Jan. 1, does not stop bosses from viewing information that isn't restricted by privacy settings on a website. Employers are also free to set workplace policies on the use of the Internet, social networking sites and email.

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