In response to news that employers are increasingly demanding that employees and job applicants disclose their log-in information to social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, Congress has introduced measures that, if passed, would place a nationwide ban on the practice.
Introduced as H.R. 5050 by Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., the Social Networking Online Protection Act, or SNOPA, would prohibit employers from requiring or requesting that employees and job applicants provide a user name, password, or other means for accessing a personal account on any social networking website.
H.R. 5050 broadly defines employers who are covered under the law — “employer” includes “any person acting directly or indirectly in the interest of an employer in relation to an employee or an applicant for employment.” The bill also prohibits colleges and universities from requesting the passwords of current or prospective students.
Shortly after H.R. 5050 was introduced on May 9, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., along with several co-sponsors, introduced a measure taking a different approach from SNOPA, the Password Protection Act, in the Senate, and Rep. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., and Ed Perlmutter, D-Colo., introduced a parallel bill in the House.
PPA would amend the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act and prohibit employers from requiring or requesting access to employees’ online personal accounts or password-protected computers, provided that they are not the employer’s computers. PPA would also prohibit employers from taking adverse actions against employees for refusing to disclose passwords. Under PPA, employees would also be eligible to receive compensatory damages and relief in court if their employers violated the act.
In response to public outrage expressed online to this practice, Facebook issued a press release on March 23 that declared the sharing or soliciting of a password a violation of its statement of rights and responsibilities.
“As a user, you shouldn’t be forced to share your private information and communications just to get a job,” the press release said. “And as the friend of a user, you shouldn’t have to worry that your private information or communications will be revealed to someone you don’t know and didn’t intend to share with just because that user is looking for a job. That’s why we’ve made it a violation of Facebook’s Statement of Rights and Responsibilities to share or solicit a Facebook password. We don’t think employers should be asking prospective employees to provide their passwords because we don’t think it’s the right thing to do.”
Since the outcry for a response from lawmakers, several states have introduced legislation to ban employers from requesting confidential log-in information as a condition of employment, including Maryland, which became the first state to pass legislation expressly prohibiting the practice. It remains to be seen whether legislation on the federal level will move forward with similar speed.
SNOPA and PPA remain in committees awaiting consideration.