On May 23, Illinois followed in Maryland’s footsteps to become the second state to pass a law prohibiting employers from asking employees or job applicants for their passwords to social networking websites. Although the Illinois governor must still approve the legislation before it goes into effect, approval seems imminent given the Illinois Senate’s unanimous passage of the measure. Many other states including New York, California, Washington, Ohio, and Delaware, and both houses of Congress, are currently debating similar proposals.
Civil rights groups hail these measures as an important step to prevent the invasion of employees’ privacy and protect conversations that occur via social media. Nevertheless, some experts say the actual impact of these measures on employee privacy will be limited as it is unclear how widespread the practice of requesting employee passwords to social media actually is. In March, Facebook’s chief privacy officer issued a statement referring to an increase in reports of employers attempting to gain access to employees’ Facebook pages and cautioning employees against violating Facebook’s “Statement of Rights and Responsibilities” by sharing their passwords. Additionally, Congressmen have called upon the Department of Justice and the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission to further investigate the issue.
Notwithstanding the movement to limit access, employers may still use information available online in the public domain to research or investigate current or prospective employees.