The House Committee on Labor Industrial and Rehabilitative Services heard two similar proposals that would bar employers from asking applicants for passwords in order to go exploring in their accounts on Facebook, Twitter or other social media sites.
State Rep Peter Sullivan, D-Manchester, a sponsor of the bills, said they were filed because of the fear that employers will start demanding the right to see what possible new hires have been doing with their lives since the day they signed up for an account.
"This is designed to protect the fundamental privacy of workers," Sullivan said. " We as a society, especially here in New Hampshire, take our right to privacy seriously, you should not have right to to compromise that privacy by having people turn over their social media passwords."
Another sponsor, Rep. Katherine Rogers, who compared the social media of today to the custom of sending letters in previous centuries, noted that she might not have been offered a job as county manager for Dukes County, Massachusetts, had she been forced to give up social media passwords early in the process.
"If they had know before that I was overweight, older, and had a medical condition, would they have offered me the job,?" Rogers said.
The Concord lawmaker turned down the job with the county that encompasses Martha's Vineyard and the Elizabeth Islands.
But committee members had a lot of questions about scenarios, ranging from the ability of employers to get the information anyway through monitoring of computers it owns, to the effect on hiring teachers or public safety officers, positions in which potential problems might be caught through the type of background check that unfettered Facebook fact-finding might reveal.
Lt. John Marasco, head of recruiting for the New Hampshire State Police, said the agency opposes the limits on social media access.
"It is important to go to public media; it should be explored because it can give you information about a candidate that should not be wearing a state police uniform," Marasco said. "People do not act the same way when they anonymous behind a keyboard and a screen as when they are before you for an oral (hiring) board or going through a screening process."
Committee members also worried that the restriction might place businesses that hire people to work with sensitive financial information at risk. Committee members also noted that employers in the financial services industry often want to the ability to track computer use among employees. Barry Glenning, director the state Bureau of Securities Regulation, which oversees securities trading, said regulators had an issue with the idea because of potential conflicts with laws intended to protect the integrity of financial market transactions.
"Everything must be open to inspection," Glenning said. A number of committee members asked witnesses in support of the legislation if they knew of any actual instances in which persons being hired had been asked to supply social media passwords.
Only one had specific examples, Devon Chafee, executive director of the New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union, cited instances of a public safety officer in Maryland; hiring procedures in the city of of Bozeman, Mont., and press accounts of a statistician from New York who was asked for social media information.
Other than the head of hiring for the state police, neither witnesses nor committee members were aware of any instance in New Hampshire where an employer demanded a social network password as part of the hiring process.
Diana Lacey, of a public employee union, warned the committee that if employers adopt the practice in the future, gaining access to one potential hire's Facebook account would give them access to private messages which would mean free reign to rummage through the private lives of people they've never even heard of.
"It is literally a treasure trove into hundreds of people's lives," she said.