he NSA doesn't have to ask for your permission before poking around your Facebook account — according to disclosures made by Edward Snowden. But what about your boss?
Last month, New Jersey became the latest state to make it illegal for employers to demand that employees and job seekers fork over the login information for their social media accounts. The law also bars employers from retaliating against employees who refuse to hand over their passwords. New Jersey companies that fail to comply could face up to a $2,500 fine.
But they're not the only ones. The number of states passing "Facebook" laws is growing, and 12 others have put such laws on the books since 2012.
To see if your state has passed a law on this issue — or has a bill pending — check out the map below, which was compiled with help from information collected by the National Conferences of State Legislatures. Many of these states have also passed laws barring universities from asking for social media passwords as well, so be sure to check out the full NCSL list.
(Click on your state for more details)
Maryland became the first state to pass an employer-related law in 2012, after a local man named Robert Collins brought his case to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Collins had worked as a correctional supply officer for years before taking a few months of personal leave after his mother passed away. When he tried to reapply for his job, there was a catch — he would only be reinstated on the condition that he give up his Facebook password. The interviewer allegedly said that he needed to check the page for "gang affiliation." Because Collins needed the job, he complied.
There have been many other similar incidents. In Virginia, anyone seeking to be a state trooper has to reveal the contents of his or her social media accounts. My hometown of Bozeman, Mont., instructed all government job applicants to provide such information until a public outcry in 2011. And Justin Bassett, a New York City statistician, was asked for his Facebook password when he applied for a job last year.
"We would balk if our employers came over to our houses and asked to look through our photo albums [or] read our diaries or postal mail," says Allie Bohm, an advocacy and policy strategist for the ACLU. "By asking for our social media account log-in information, they're doing the equivalent thing in the digital world. And, they're not just getting access to our private information, but to the private information of our friends and family members."
Bohm also notes that she's not aware of cases in which federal agencies have asked for this information, and even individuals applying for security clearances can keep their social networking passwords private.
Dave Maass, a spokesman for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, notes that when employers ask for this information, it's essentially a violation of the federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act — because most social networks have terms of service that clearly state that you will not let anyone else access your account. "It's absolutely an abuse for an employer to require an employee to violate this contract," says Maass. "[Employers] have no real need to examine conversations between loved ones, parents and children, Bible-study partners, or fantasy football participants."
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
Subscribe to the Week