On Friday, Rep. Eliot Engel and Rep. Jan Schakowsky introduced legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives to stop employers from requiring applicants to divulge social media passwords.  According to Congressman Engel, the bill, called the Social Networking Online Protection Act (SNOPA) would:

  • Prohibit current or potential employers from requiring a username, password or other access to online content. It does not permit employers to demand such access to discipline, discriminate or deny employment to individuals, nor punish them for refusing to volunteer the information.
  • Apply the same restrictions to colleges and universities, and K-12 schools as well.

“Social media sites have become a widespread communication tool – both personally and professionally – all across the world.  However, a person’s so-called “digital footprint” is largely unprotected,” Rep. Engel stated on his website.  “There have been a number of reports about employers requiring new applicants to give their username and password as part of the hiring process.  The same has occurred at some schools and universities.”  He went on to note that ”[p]asswords are the gateway to many avenues containing personal and sensitive content – including email accounts, bank accounts and other information.”

Rep. Engel claims this legislation draws a clear distinction regarding what information must remain private.  “No one would feel comfortable going to a public place and giving out their . . . passwords to total strangers,” he said.  “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.”  Representative Engel is a senior member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.  The text of the legislation is not yet available (we will provide an update about the scope of the legislation as soon as it is!)

As you may recall from our earlier post, The Minnesota Legislature Contemplates Protecting Employee and Applicant Facebook Passwords From Employers, this legislation won’t be Congress’ first attempt at regulating the disclosure of online usernames and passwords.  In March, the House of Representatives defeated an amendment to a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) reform bill that would permit the FCC to enact rules prohibiting telecommunications companies from requiring applicants to disclose passwords to social networking sites.  Additionally, several states have introduced legislation, and in Maryland the bill is still waiting for its governor’s signature.  The Debate Over Social Media Passwords Continues: Maryland Legislature Passes Ban on Employers Asking for Social Media Passwords.

Do you think the federal government should be involved?  If not, then do we risk a smattering of dissimilar and possibly conflicting state legislation?  Let me know where you stand.