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Bill would ban bosses from making you hand over your social media info

“We don’t let our employers into our homes or our bedrooms. We should not let them into our digital lives without permission.”

“We don’t let our employers into our homes or our bedrooms. We should not let them into our digital lives without permission.” Associated Press

Robert Collins was applying to recertify with the Maryland Division of Corrections (DOC) as a supply officer. He expected the standard background check. But this time around, the DOC wanted something else: His Facebook and email logins.

The agency had a new policy. All applicants had to turn over their social media logins and passwords to be considered, even if they weren’t under suspicion for anything. The interviewer later said it was because he needed to check Collins' page for any possible "gang affiliation." 

“Here I am, a U.S. citizen who hasn’t broken any laws, who hasn’t committed any crimes, and I had a prospective… employer looking at my personal communications,” Collins said in a YouTube video documenting his experience. Everything would be on display, he said – his “photos,” his “religious beliefs,” his “political beliefs,” even his “sexuality.”

“As officers, we do not forfeit our civil rights,” he said. “You cannot violate people’s privacy and trample on their rights because it’s convenient for you.”

At the time, there was nothing on the books that said his employer couldn’t trample on Collins’ rights. But the American Civil Liberties Union took up Collins’ case, and Maryland passed the first bill in the nation to ban employers from asking for social media passwords from job applicants and employees.

That was seven years ago. Twenty-six states have since enacted privacy laws. Sixteen have laws that include educational institutions. One -- Wisconsin -- has a similar law that applies to landlords. Congress even toyed with the idea for a while after reports of job applicants being snubbed and employees being fired made headlines.

Despite the case making some sympathetic ripples in the Minnesota legislature in 2012, nothing has been done here. But a new bill sponsored by Rep. John Lesch (D-St. Paul) may change that.

Its goal is simple: If your boss tries to demand access – whether something about privacy settings, a username, or a password – it would be a civil offense. Your boss could still look you up on Facebook and peruse whatever information you’ve made public, but she can’t make you “friend” her so she can see more.

As Lesch said earlier this month, our digital profiles are increasingly an extension of ourselves. Even on the “interwebs,” our private lives should remain private. As he told KSTP, there are a few "horror stories" out there. 

“We don’t let our employers into our homes or our bedrooms,” he said. “We should not let them into our digital lives without permission.” 

Sen. Scott Dibble (D-Minneapolis) is working on a companion bill in the Senate. Neither Lesch nor Dibble responded to interview requests, so it's hard to say why now is finally the time to tackle this issue.

It could be because social media users have had larger, more threatening fish to fry than their bosses. On Thursday, it was revealed that Facebook employees have had access to millions of users' passwords dating back to 2012.

Time will tell if Minnesota gets a better-late-than-never start on social media privacy. In the meantime, consider those friend requests from your boss with caution.