Bill to Ban Employers' Facebook Snooping Introduced In Congress

bill banning Facebook snooping

Should some members of Congress get their way, employers will soon be banned from snooping in your Facebook page. Two lawmakers introduced a bill that would make it illegal for employers to require applicants and employees to divulge personal online information for social-networking sites, including passwords, in hiring or disciplinary actions.

Known as the Social Networking Online Protection Act, or SNOPA, the bill would also ban educational facilities, including schools, from disciplining students or denying them enrollment for not sharing their access information.

Citing news reports about employers requiring job applicants to give their usernames and passwords as part of the hiring process, Rep. Eliot Engel, the New York Democrat who introduced the legislation, said that although several states are weighing laws to prohibit employers from requesting personal online information, a federal law to protect workers in all 50 states was needed.

"We must draw the line somewhere and define what is private," Engel said Friday in a statement announcing the proposal. "No one would feel comfortable going to a public place and giving out their username and passwords to total strangers. They should not be required to do so at work, at school, or while trying to obtain work or an education."

Reports of employers using Facebook entries to deny employment, or discipline or fire employees, has grown in recent years along with the popularity of social media itself.

'Embarrassed and Violated'

One instance involves, Robert Collins, a former supply officer at Maryland's department of corrections, who said that he was asked for his Facebook account information three years ago while being re-certified for his job, following a leave of absence.

The Baltimore resident complied with the request, but said that he felt embarrassed and violated as an interviewer roamed his private messages, pictures and posts.

"It almost seemed that my compliance was compulsory," Collins said.

Maryland has since sought to ban the practice and several other states, including Illinois and California, are looking at doing the same.

Last month U.S. Sens. Charles Schumer of New York and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, both Democrats, asked the Department of Justice and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to examine whether companies that chose to snoop in workers' entries on social media sites such as Facebook are breaking the law.

"Employers have no right to ask job applicants for their house keys or to read their diaries -- why should they be able to ask them for their Facebook passwords and gain unwarranted access to a trove of private information about what we like, what messages we send to people, or who we are friends with?" Schumer said in a statement.

Facebook, meanwhile, has threatened legal action against organizations that require employees to reveal profile passwords.

Rep. Engel's legislation is the latest attempt in Congress to crack down on social-media snooping, MSNBC notes. Last month, a proposal in the House of Representatives suggested adding language to pending legislation that would have given the Federal Communications Commission the right to regulate the practice, but the proposal was shot down.

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