Two members of Congress introduced a bill on Friday that would ban employers from requiring employees to hand over their social networking account information. The Social Network Online Protection Act was introduced by Democratic Congressman Eliot Engel of New York and Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky of Illinois.
The bill was authored in response to recent reports of employers demanding potential and current employees' usernames and passwords in order to qualify for employment. The bill would also apply to universities and K-12 schools.
We must draw the line somewhere and define what is private. No one would feel comfortable going to a public place and giving out their username and passwords to total strangers, said Engel, according to The Hill. They should not be required to do so at work, at school, or while trying to obtain work or an education. This is a matter of personal privacy and makes sense in our digital world.
An employer who violates the law could be subjected to a $10,000 civil penalty under the bill. Earlier this year, after the Associated Press released an article citing the practices, Facebook responded by threatening to take legal action against any organization that required employees to disclose their Facebook passwords and usernames as a stipulation for employment.
The practice technically violates the Electronic Communications Protection Act of 1986, but the Department of Justice has already expressed that they do not intend to prosecute the offending employers under the bill. Several states have since enacted legislation that bars the practice, but SNOPA is the first bill to be introduced to Congress addressing these privacy concerns.
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Maryland became the first state to band the practice, and other states such as California and Illinois are following suit. Senator Richard Blumenthal (Connecticut) and Chuck Schumer (New York) are also in the midst of drafting a similar bill, which is expected to be introduced later this year.
As a user, you shouldn't be forced to share your private information and communications just to get a job, said Facebook's privacy chief Erin Egan, in a statement addressed to al user. We'll take action to protect the privacy and security of our users, whether by engaging policymakers or, where appropriate, by initiating legal action.