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SNOPA legislation would bar employers from social network passwords

The proposed Social Networking Online Protection Act is designed to shield the social networking passwords of job applicants and students.
Written by John Fontana, Contributor

New York congressman Eliot Engel Friday introduced SNOPA, legislation to protect users of social networking from having to grant employers or schools access to their personal sites.

The Social Networking Online Protection Actwould restrict current or potential employers "from requiring a username, password or other access to online content."

The legislation would prevent employers from seeking access to social networking sites "to discipline, discriminate or deny employment to individuals, nor punish them for refusing to volunteer the information."

SNOPA would extend to colleges, universities and K-12 schools.

Engel's legislation has yet to be assigned to a committee, according to his press secretary Joe O'Brien.

"Social media sites have become a widespread communications tool - both personally and professionally - all across the world.  However, a person's so-called ‘digital footprint' is largely unprotected," Rep. Engel (D-N.Y) said in a statement.  "Passwords are the gateway to many avenues containing personal and sensitive content - including email accounts, bank accounts and other information," said Engel.

Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) is co-sponsoring SNOPA with Engel.

Over the past months, there have been numerous incidents of employers and school officials demanding Facebook credentials either as part of a job interview or as part of disciplining a student.

A wave a debate has swept through social sites and news outlets across the Internet. In late March, Republicans in the House blocked a measure seeking to allow the Federal Communications Commission to prevent employers from forcing workers to reveal Facebook passwords.

Earlier this month, Maryland became the first state to enact legislation preventing employers from demanding applicants hand over social networking log-in credentials. At least seven others states are considering similar legislation and the American Civil Liberties Union is monitoring the situation.

The legislation could not only protect the privacy of citizens, but it has been suggested that companies would also benefit.

One company department head blogged that knowing personal details about an applicant could possibly lead to discrimination charges if the applicant believed they were not hired based on information gleaned from their social site such as sexual orientation.

Engel,  a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said "we need a federal statute to protect all Americans across the country. This is a matter of personal privacy and makes sense in our digital world."

Engel posted the announcement on the legislation on his Facebook page. As of Friday afternoon, he had two "Likes."

Engel has spent much of his time in Congress championing energy issues, affordable housing, healthcare reform and education. Engel recently introduced The Cell Phone Theft Protection Act, which would create a centralized list of stolen wireless phones and force providers to turn off service to those devices.

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