If you live in Maryland or Illinois, then you are protected by new "Facebook Laws" that prohibit employers from asking for the passwords to your social media accounts.  These laws distinguish between what you put out there for public consumption and what you decide to keep private behind password-protected walls.

The big question is:  Why hasn’t every state made that distinction?

Employers cannot tap our home phones to listen in on our private conversations with our close friends and family.  They cannot open the private letters we send by U.S. mail.  Why should they be able to see what we say confidentially to our friends and family via our password-protected social media accounts?

In fact, there is a very significant danger when employers start peering into our password-protected private communications.  They may learn about our religious beliefs, family relationships, pregnancies, disabilities, sexual orientation, and other very personal information.

Employers are prohibited from asking us about these topics in job interviews – and they are prohibited from making employment decisions based on this information.  Why do they have the right in 48 states to require that we turn over our social media passwords so they can look at this type of information as a condition of employment?

Business organizations have opposed the new laws.  They argue that sometimes we say things that are relevant to job decisions in our private, password-protected communications with close friends and family.

Really?  We make the same types of job-related comments in private conversations in our living rooms, over the phone, and even in love letters.  Would anyone really argue that employers have such a compelling need to explore all possible sources of job-related information that they have the right to demand access to our phone calls, living rooms, and love letters just in case we said something that might be job-related?

Were employers hamstrung in their efforts to hire acceptable employees for the couple of centuries that preceded the development of Facebook?  Of course not.  Employers never needed access to our private communications in the past, and they don't need to intrude on our privacy today either.

California, Delaware, Michigan, New Jersey, and Washington are considering similar legislation to protect our right to keep employers out of our private, password-protected communications.  With the two states that have already passed “Facebook laws,” that makes a total of seven out of the 50 states.  What about the other 43?

John Howley
New York, New York


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