Ariz. bill: Workers' online info should be private

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By Andrew Michalscheck By Andrew Michalscheck

PHOENIX (AP) -- Ask about employment history. Ask about education. But don't you dare ask for a job applicant's Facebook password.

That's the message some Arizona lawmakers are sending employers amid an ongoing national debate over online privacy rights.

As social networking sites have become more popular, managers are increasingly reviewing publicly available Facebook profiles, Twitter accounts and other sites to learn more about job candidates and employees. But some companies and government agencies are taking it further and demanding applicants and employees give up their usernames and passwords.

Arizona is one of dozens of states considering legislation to protect workers from such intrusions. A Senate bill advanced Wednesday would make it illegal for employers to demand online passwords or usernames or punish employees and applicants who refuse to provide such information.

Republican Sen. Rick Murphy, the bill's sponsor, noted that some businesses are concerned about any laws restricting them from disciplining employees or fully investigating job candidates. But Murphy said Arizona must find a balance.

"This is an area where we don't want to be caught behind the curve of technology," he said. "We want to try to at least keep up."

Similar legislation has been introduced or is pending in at least 27 other states, and at least six states enacted legislation in 2012 protecting employees, applicants or students asked to disclose usernames or passwords for a personal social media account, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Some business leaders complain these measures are vague and leave employers vulnerable to legal problems.

"The bill, number one, does not identify what a personal account is," said Mike Gardner, a lobbyist for Verizon Communications Inc. and Microsoft Corp. "We need to be crystal clear what a personal account is."