Password Protection Act: Ban bosses asking for Facebook passwords

The Password Protection Act, which looks to protect employees from employers asking for access to their social networking accounts, has been introduced in both the House and Senate.
Written by Emil Protalinski, Contributor

A group of Democrats today introduced legislation in both the House and Senate to prevent employers from forcing employees and job applicants into sharing information from their personal social networking accounts. In other words, Maryland may soon not be the only state that has banned employers demanding access to Facebook accounts. The Password Protection Act of 2012 (PPA) would also prevent employers from accessing information on any computer that isn't owned or controlled by an employer, including private e-mail accounts, photo sharing sites, and smartphones.

PPA is meant to enhance current law to prohibit employers from compelling or coercing employees into providing access to their private accounts. It includes the following points:

  • Prohibits an employer from forcing prospective or current employees to provide access to their own private account as a condition of employment.
  • Prohibits employers from discriminating or retaliating against a prospective or current employee because that employee refuses to provide access to a password-protected account.
  • The Password Protection Act only prohibits adverse employment related actions as a consequence of an employee's failure to provide access to their own private accounts. It preserves the rights of employers to:
    • Permit social networking within the office on a voluntary basis.
    • Set policies for employer-operated computer systems.
    • Hold employees accountable for stealing data from their employers.

  • Employers that violate the Password Protection Act may face financial penalties.

The PPA bill, drafted in consultation with major technology companies and legal experts, was introduced in the Senate by Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal, as well as several co-sponsors (Chuck Schumer, Ron Wyden, Jeanne Shaheen, and Amy Klobuchar). Colorado Democrat Representative Ed Perlmutter and Congressmen Martin Heinrich are introducing an identical companion bill in the House.

Blumenthal was one of the senators who called for an investigation to determine whether employers are violating federal law with this practice. He also supported a petition fighting it, which by the way still hasn't reached its goal of 60,000 signatures.

You may remember I quoted Perlmutter during the floor debate in the House less than two months ago. He tried to explain the problem, but ultimate the House voted down an amendment that would have banned employers demanding access to Facebook. Now the politicians have returned with their own bill.

"Employers seeking access to passwords or confidential information on social networks, email accounts, or other protected Internet services is an unreasonable and intolerable invasion of privacy," Blumenthal said in a statement. "With few exceptions, employers do not have the need or the right to demand access to applicants' private, password-protected information. This legislation, which I am proud to introduce, ensures that employees and job seekers are free from these invasive and intrusive practices."

"People have an expectation of privacy when using social media like Facebook and Twitter," Perlmutter said in a statement. "They have an expectation that their right to free speech and religion will be respected when they use social media outlets. No American should have to provide their confidential personal passwords as a condition of employment. Both users of social media and those who correspond share the expectation of privacy in their personal communications. Employers essentially can act as imposters and assume the identity of an employee and continually access, monitor and even manipulate an employee's personal social activities and opinions. That's simply a step too far."

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), one of the few organizations fighting employers who demand Facebook passwords, points out that this legislation's protections do not extend to students who are also frequent targets of this practice. Additionally, it allows states and the federal government to exempt some classes of employees (such as those who have access to secret national security information).

"This bill creates a necessary framework for guarding privacy in the 21st century," Christopher Calabrese, ACLU legislative counsel, said in a statement. "While the legislation contains some problematic exceptions, it does establish clear, bright boundaries when it comes to what online information our bosses can access. Employers have no business snooping on their employees' Facebook pages, private email accounts and smart phones. Passing the Password Protection Act would be a major step toward ensuring they can't. We'll work with the sponsors to extend these protections to students and eliminate some problematic exceptions."

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