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Facebook May Sue Employers Who Demand Passwords

Let's get one thing straight: employers have no right to your Facebook password even if you're stupid enough to log onto the social website during working hours. Unless you're managing the company's Facebook page, your account is your own business, and employers have no right to it. Facebook apparently agrees, and is threatening to sue any employer who demands personal Facebook login credentials from employees or job applicants.

"This practice undermines the privacy expectations and the security of both the user and the user's friends," Erin Egan, the site's chief privacy officer, wrote Friday on the site's Facebook and Privacy Page. "It also potentially exposes the employer who seeks this access to unanticipated legal liability."

Egan points to numerous reports that have surfaced over the last few months. One example is Robert Collins, a nursing student, father and corrections supply officer with the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services. After taking a short leave to deal with his mother's death, he returned to discover that he had to fork over his personal Facebook password if he wanted to keep his job.

"My personal communications, my personal posts, my personal pictures, looking at my personally identifiable information, where my religious beliefs, my political beliefs, my sexuality — all of these things are possibly disclosed on this page," Collins reports via the ACLU of Maryland. "It's absolute total invasion and overreach."

Facebook agrees. "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," Egan states. "We have worked really hard at Facebook to give you the tools to control who sees your information."

That said, Facebook takes its users' privacy seriously, and has no problems unleashing the legal hounds on nosy employers. "We’ll take action to protect the privacy and security of our users, whether by engaging policymakers or, where appropriate, by initiating legal action, including by shutting down applications that abuse their privileges," Egan adds.

Facebook has updated its Statement of Rights and Responsibilities to address the password issue, as seen here.

Meanwhile, Assemblyman John Burzichelli (D-Cumberland/Gloucester/Salem) is introducing legislation that would prohibit an employer from requiring a current or prospective employee to provide or disclose any user name, password, or other means for accessing a personal account or service through an electronic communications device. They also can't force current and potential employees to waive or limit their protection granted under the bill as a condition of employment.

Even more, the bill prohibits an employer from retaliating against current and potential employees that file a complaint or testify against said employer in regards to acquiring personal information. Violations of the provisions of the proposed bill would carry civil penalties up to $1,000 for the first violation, and $2,500 for each subsequent violation.

"This is a huge invasion of privacy. It’s really no different than asking someone to turn over a key to their house,” he stated on Thursday. "In this job market, especially, employers clearly have the upper hand. Demanding this information is akin to coercion when it might mean the difference between landing a job and not being able to put food on the table for your family."

The bill will formally be introduced the next time the Assembly is in session, reports the New Jersey Assembly.