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Social Media Passwords Could Soon Be Off Limits to NJ Employers

Potential New Jersey employers would not be able to get their hands on your social media passwords under a measure passed by the full Assembly Thursday. 

The Facebook Home Page
Dan Kitwood, Getty Images

By a vote of 75-2, the full Assembly granted final legislative approval to a bill sponsored by Assemblymen John Burzichelli, Lou Greenwald, Ruben Ramos, Herb Conaway and Marlene Caride that would bar employers and colleges from requiring current or prospective employees or students to turn over their login information for social networking websites as a condition of employment or acceptance.

“In this job market, especially, employers clearly have the upper hand,” said Burzichelli. “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. This is a huge invasion of privacy that takes ‘Big Brother’ to a whole new level. It’s really no different than asking someone to turn over a key to their house.”

The legislation initially came in response a rash of reports that private businesses and higher education institutions are demanding Facebook login information from job applicants. The lawmakers also sponsored a companion bill that became law in December, which now bars colleges and universities from doing the same.

“This practice is highly invasive and also begs the question of where do you draw the line,” said Greenwald. “If an employer or college claims they’re trying to gain a perspective on the applicant’s life, what’s to stop them from trying to require the login information for a spouse or parent? With the economy still struggling to gain traction, most people don’t have the luxury of standing up to a prospective employer and denying this type of request.”

The measure 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. Employers would also be prohibited from asking a current or prospective employee if they have an account or profile on a social networking website. There are exemptions for certain fields of work including law enforcement.

“If we don’t draw this line in the sand now, who knows how far this invasion of privacy might be taken,” wondered Ramos. “In an economy where employers clearly have the upper hand, we need to protect the rights of job seekers from being trampled.”

The sponsors say the rise of social networking sites has made it more commonplace for employers to review publicly available Facebook profiles, Twitter accounts and other such sites, but they question the legality of demanding login information from applicants.

“Employers have managed to interview and hire quality employees for years without having to resort to this extra layer of scrutiny,” pointed out Caride. “There’s no reason they can’t continue to do so without invading a person’s privacy in such a way.”

The measure now heads to Governor Chris Christie’s desk.

 

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