instagramfacebookIf you walk into work tomorrow and the boss demands access to your Facebook account, you can now use the law to refuse that request.

Washington’s Senate Bill 5211 takes effect on Sunday and employers are now prohibited from asking for social media passwords of their employees both on the job and during interviews.

The new law, which passed the Senate and House unanimously, also bans employers from demanding that employees befriend them on social media in order to gain access to their respective profiles. Employers may also not demand access while in the employee’s presence, or in other words no shoulder-surfing.

There are a few exceptions. Employers may be granted access — but not be given the actual passwords — when “making a factual determination in the course of conducting an investigation.” The purpose of the internal “investigation” must relate to “work-related employee misconduct,” or instances when workers may be leaking confidential information. This law also does not apply to internal social networks.

twitterThere several other states that have implemented similar laws or have pending legislation about this issue. Oregon, which also will soon prohibit employers asking for passwords, also passed a law banning colleges from doing the same to students.

It’s key to note that in section 4.8 of Facebook’s Terms and Conditions, the social networking site explicitly states that:

“You will not share your password (or in the case of developers, your secret key), let anyone else access your account, or do anything else that might jeopardize the security of your account.”

Under section 5.7, it states that:

“If you collect information from users, you will: obtain their consent, make it clear you (and not Facebook) are the one collecting their information, and post a privacy policy explaining what information you collect and how you will use it.”

Earlier this year, we asked readers if they agreed with the law — more than 96 percent said yes.

Previously on GeekWire: Persona wants to help you get hired by protecting your social media reputation 24/7 … Geek on the Street: Facebook’s stock is soaring, but do people think it’s still cool?

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  • Vroo (Bruce Leban)

    While this law is a welcome improvement, it doesn’t define “social networking account”. Does email qualify as social networking? What about my cell phone account? Or my credit card account? Or my amazon, netflix, xbox or library accounts?

    I would contend that an employer has no business asking for access to any of those accounts, but I can also imagine an employer demanding those passwords and pointing to this law and saying “If Washington had intended that your [fill in the blank] account was protected, they would have included it.”

    And the “investigation” loophole is huge. It doesn’t require, for example, police reports to be filed or independent third parties. In other words, nothing that would block employers from going on a fishing expedition with the barest unsubstantiated suspicion.

    Still, I suppose it’s better than it was yesterday.

    • Julia Oceania

      Basically, if it isn’t owned by the company they have no business accessing it.

  • Guest

    Thank you, legislators, for your help. This is great news for Washingtonians.

  • Michael Hazell

    The fact that employers could even demand your social media passwords was a joke to start with. I would refuse.

  • Adam Gering

    It is generally illegal for anyone to ask for your passwords to anything. Password sharing is a Terms of Service violation for nearly any website, the violation of which is a federal crime that can be prosecuted under the The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA), ala Aaron Swartz.

  • Michael Destefanis

    Personally I think if the company suspects the leaking of confidential info they should be required to go to law enforcement who can subpoena for access. However if they find nothing that should be grounds for a lawsuit for the invasion of privacy. Companies are great at finding loopholes. Kinda how those on their board of directors get out of paying a fair tax rate for the most part. While this is a step up, investigations should be limited to law enforcement involvement. Granted ideally I would say “not at all! Now piss off” but still. Quite frankly I really couldn’t care less if someone wants to spill their employer’s secrets to friends on Facebook. They don’t like it? Get a warrant like everyone else other than the NSA needs to get.

  • Markito Eric Soler

    Its pathetic… What gives them the right? Even the NSA shouldn’t have that power to scroll in our privacy.

  • Noctis Wolf

    How’s about the managers spill all of their secrets out into the office. I say any supervisor who demands FB passwords should no longer have a right to privacy, ever again for as long as they live. Every single solitary secret, detail, thought, emotion, everything. shall be put out into the Public Domain for all to see. Because if they have nothing to hide, then why hide anything and why want privacy? Isn’t that how their phuckin twisted logic goes?

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