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    Update: Illinois Passes Law Prohibiting Employers from Requiring Social-Networking Passwords

    In the past few months, there has been increasing focus on the practice by some employers of requiring job applicants to hand over their passwords or allow access to their private accounts on social-networking sites such as Facebook, MySpace or Google+ in order to gather personal data when the social-networking profiles are closed to the public.

    In April, Maryland became the first state to ban employers from requiring access to the social-media accounts of their employees and job applicants when its General Assembly passed a law concerning the practice. The bill also noted that it did not prevent employers from investigating Web sites or “Web-based accounts” for violations of securities or financial laws or regulatory requirements; nor does the bill prevent businesses from investigating employee misconduct in downloading proprietary data.

    In May, federal legislation was introduced concerning the issue of employer access to private employee or job applicant data. Democratic Sens. Richard Blumenthal (Conn.), Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), Charles Schumer (N.Y.), Ron Wyden (Ore.) and Jeanne Shaheen (N.H.) have introduced the Password Protection Act of 2012 (archive pdf).

    Now, Illinois has passed privacy legislation — HB 3782, now Public Act 097-0875 (pdf) — to bar employers from asking job applicants and employees for passwords to their social-networking sites. The Associated Press reports:

    Gov. Pat Quinn signed the law Wednesday at the Illinois Institute of Technology, where several students lamented that online snooping by bosses has caused some to lose out on jobs and forced others to temporarily deactivate their online profiles.

    Illinois is only the second state to have such a law on the books, and it leaves no exceptions — even for openings that require thorough background checks. […]

    The governor said it was important to ensure privacy laws keep pace with technology.

    “We’re dealing with 21st-century issues,” Quinn said. “… Privacy is a fundamental right. I believe that and I think we need to fight for that.”

    The law protects both current employees and prospective hires. But the legislation, which takes effect Jan. 1, does not stop bosses from viewing information that isn’t restricted by privacy settings on a website. Employers are also free to set workplace policies on the use of the Internet, social networking sites and email.

    Penalties in any successful civil suit would start at between $100 and $300 and could end up costing employers more, said bill sponsor Rep. La Shawn Ford, a Chicago Democrat. […]

    Lori Andrews, a professor at the Illinois Institute of Technology’s Chicago-Kent College of Law, said some research has shown that 75 percent of employers require their human resources departments to look at online profiles before offering an applicant a job, and that a third of employers have turned down applicants based on those searches.

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