Congress Considers Employee Social Media Privacy Bill

While a handful of states have passed bills forbidding employers to ask employees or prospective employees for social media passwords, so far there hasn’t been any federal legislation on the subject. That may change (or not) now that three members of the House of Representatives have reintroduced a law, the Social Networking Online Protection Act, for consideration by their peers.

In addition to preventing employers from snooping in their employees’ social media accounts, the cutely-acronymed SNOPA would apply the same kind of restrictions to education, forbidding schools, colleges, and universities from requiring students to hand over access to their personal social media accounts. The act’s authors -- Eliot Engel (D-NY), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) and Michael Grimm (R-NY) -- argue that kids and teenagers aren’t able to stand up for their privacy as effectively as adults.

The bill was originally introduced in May 2012, but got lost in the legislative shuffle and general dysfunction on Capitol Hill. At the time the bill’s authors co-authored a column where they warned: “Frankly, when there are no laws prohibiting institutions from requiring this information, it becomes a common practice.”

As noted, several states have already passed legislation to stop employers from demanding access to social media accounts. Maryland’s legislature approved a social media privacy law in April 2012, after employers including the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services asked employees and potential employees for passwords to their profiles. And in August 2012 California lawmakers voted overwhelmingly to make it illegal for employers to ask job applicants or employees for their social media passwords. The law also forbids retaliation against employees who refuse to share passwords.

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