New Federal Law Will Bar Employer Demands For Online Passwords

A few weeks ago, as reported here, Maryland became the first state to pass legislation that would ban employers from demanding that employees or job candidates turn over their social media passwords.

Could a federal law be soon to follow?

Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) has introduced legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives that would outlaw this practice nationally. The bill, known as Social Networking Online Protection Act (SNOPA) (legislation / bill tracking), is broader than the Maryland bill. According to this press release from Congressman Engel, SNOPA not only covers employers, but also schools and universities. 

Although the text of the bill is not yet available online, the press release further notes that SNOPA would accomplish two objectives:

  • 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.

While I agree that requiring applicants to furnish social media passwords as a condition of employment is, generally, a bad business practice, I fear that the firestorm about employers supposedly demanding social media passwords is drastically overblown. The examples of employers -- most notably the City of Bozeman and the Maryland Department of Corrections -- who have made this stupid mistake, are old news. Both employers were publicly scrutinized and shamed into stopping.

So, while I anxiously await seeing the text of the bill, I will spend my time in the interim hunting for the great white buffalo who, in 2012, actually demands social media passwords from its employees and potential hires.

This article was originally published on Eric B. Meyer's blog, The Employer Handbook

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