California moves to stop employers demanding Facebook passwords

The move is part of a wave of legislative activity to block the practice

The California assembly passed a bill on Thursday that prevents employers from demanding job applicants' passwords for accounts on Facebook or other social networking sites.

The bill passedunanimously and will now head to the state senate. Similar legislation was introduced Thursday in the U.S. Congress.

The legislative moves follow reports that employers have demanded passwords for social sites from job applicants, demanded a walk-through of the content on those sites or insisted applicants accept a friend request from a member of staff.

It's unclear how common the practice really is, but according to Nora Campos [cq], the Democrat who introduced the California bill, there are 129 cases before the National Labor Relations Board involving improper use of social networking accounts by employers.

The practice began to draw public attention in March when a New York statistician disclosed that a prospective employer had demanded his Facebook login as part of its screening process. Facebook responded by making it a violation of its terms of service to solicit or share account passwords.

"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," Erin Egan, Facebook's chief privacy offer for policy, wrote in a blog post.

The American Civil Liberties Union has supported legislation to ban the practice. Chris Conley [cq], a technology and civil liberties policy attorney at the ACLU of Northern California, said social networks have "vast amounts of information" about individuals that they should not have to share each time they apply for a job.

Bills blocking employer use of job applicants' logins are being considered in six other U.S. states and have passed in two.

Cameron Scott covers search, web services and privacy for The IDG News Service. Follow Cameron on Twitter at CScott_IDG.

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