By Jamey Dunn
Today Illinois became the second state in the nation to bar businesses from asking employees or potential employees for their social media profile passwords.
“It is important that we understand that even though we live in an information world—a very fast paced world where we can get information in split seconds—there’s some information, if [it] belong[s] to the person, that belongs just to the person. That’s their choice. If they want to share it, that’s their business, but privacy is a fundamental right,” Gov. Pat Quinn said today before he signed House Bill 3782 at a Chicago news conference.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, more than a dozen other states are considering bills that would restrict employers from asking for information from employees’ profiles on social media networks, such as Facebook and Twitter. Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley signed his state’s ban in May.
Nationally, some U.S. senators have asked the U.S. Department of Justice to determine if employees who ask for social network information are violating any federal laws. Facebook has come out against employers asking for passwords and users sharing their passwords with others. “If you are a Facebook user, you should never have to share your password, let anyone access your account, or do anything that might jeopardize the security of your account or violate the privacy of your friends. We have worked really hard at Facebook to give you the tools to control who sees your information.
"As a user, you shouldn’t be forced to share your private information and communications just to get a job. 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 and didn’t intend to share with just because that user is looking for a job,” said a written statement from Erin Egan, Facebook’s chief privacy officer.
Lori Andrews, director of the Chicago-based Institute for Science, Law and Technology, said that Illinois’ new law puts the state at the “forefront” of online privacy rights. “Over 900 million people are on Facebook. If it were a nation, it would be the third largest nation in the world after India and China, and yet it’s very unclear what your rights are in that venue,” said Andrews, who is also a professor at the Chicago-Kent College of Law.
Andrews said research has shown that about 75 percent of employers browse potential employees’ public social network profiles, and about one third say they have opted not to hire employees based in part on what they found. But Andrews said that allowing businesses to access information on social sites that has not been shared to the general public would open the door to potential discrimination. “It could reveal things about your religious beliefs or your political affiliations or your sexual preferences.” She said that employers might be able to access information about topics such as family medical history or family planning decisions, which are legally barred from asking job applicants about in interviews. “If your employer can go on the private side of your Facebook page, your potential employer might find out that you’re planning to get pregnant or that you liked the American Cancer Society,” she said. “So this bill will protect employees and potential employees by preventing them from having to cough up this very personal information.”
Illinois’ law will bar employers from asking for passwords to social media accounts or making employees log in to their account and show it to the employer. It will also keep employers from making workers or applicants grant them access to information on the site that is blocked by privacy settings. However, under the new law an employer could ask for user names and view any information that a worker or job candidate chooses to make public.
Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno, who sponsored the law, said the ban would help to protect young people who are active on social media sites. “This was kind of a fun bill to work on because we pass a lot of bills in Springfield that many people, especially young people, don’t feel really affect their lives or they can relate to personally, and this is one that people definitely relate to and understand. I know I got a lot of ‘likes’ on my Facebook page when we talked about this bill. But Radogno said that as a mother, she felt the obligation to warn young people to be careful about what they post online. “Please remember that they can’t ask for your password, but be discrete and be smart about what you put out there on the Internet because it is still out there and it can affect you.”
The law goes into effect next July 1. Businesses that violate the ban would be subject to a civil penalty of between $100 and $300 for a first offense.