By Paula Katinas
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Should bosses be able to require workers to divulge the passwords to their Facebook or Twitter accounts?
A bi-partisan trio of lawmakers says, “no way!”
US Rep. Michael Grimm (R-C-Brooklyn-Staten Island) is joining forces with House colleagues across the aisle, US Rep. Eliot Engel (D-Bronx-Westchester) and US Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Illinois), to push for passage of the Social Networking Online Protection Act. The bill would protect the users of social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter from having to divulge their personal information to employers, schools and universities.
The Social Networking Online Protection Act, or SNOPA, would protect people who are already employed or enrolled in school, as well as those seeking employment or admittance into a school, from being required to give passwords or other information used to access their online accounts.
The bill was first introduced last year, but did not pass. Grimm, Engel, and Schakowsky said they are re-introducing it and plan to push hard for its passage this time around.
“While social media may seem like public outlet, an individual’s login information is private. When employers and universities require access to personal usernames and passwords, they are crossing a line that violates personal privacy,” Grimm said.
“An individual’s job should not be threatened by refusal to divulge personal information, which is why I fully support SNOPA in order to draw a clear line on the privacy protections safeguarding account information,” he said.
Privacy on social networking sites has been a topic of extensive debate over the past few years, and users have suffered as a result, according to the three lawmakers.
“The lack of clarity in the law puts individuals in a position where they either have to give up vital, private information, or risk losing their job, potential job, or enrollment in school and involvement in the school’s sports programs,” said Engel, a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
“Frankly, when there are no laws prohibiting institutions from requiring this information, it becomes a common practice. Social media sites have become a widespread communications tool – both personally and professionally – all across the world. It is erroneous to just say that if you don’t want your information accessed that you shouldn’t put it online. That ignores the basic fact of how widespread these websites and forums have become,” Engel said.
In many instances, employers ask job seekers to hand over their passwords so that the employer can look into the person’s online activities to make sure that the person is not a party animal.
But workers’ rights advocates, like the American Civil Liberties Union, said what an employee, or a college student does doing off-hours is no one’s business, certainly not an employer’s.
One woman in Bensonhurst said she hopes the bill passes. “I agree with it completely,” she said. “I don’t think a boss should have my password. What I do in my non-working hours is none of their business. It’s irrelevant to my job.”
During 2012, California, Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan and New Jersey all enacted legislation similar to SNOPA, and eight other states introduced such legislation. SNOPA is the only bipartisan legislation of its kind on the federal level, Grimm said.
SNOPA applies to websites such as Facebook, twitter, and MySpace and would also protect email and any other personal user generated content.
The bill would prohibit current or potential employers or educational institutions from requiring a username, password or other access to online content, or disciplining, discriminating, or denying employment to individuals, or punish them for refusing to volunteer such information.
“Asking for someone’s password is like asking for a key to their home. Privacy is a basic right that all Americans share, and one that we should act to protect. This legislation sets boundaries,” Schakowsky said.
SNOPA has been submitted to the House Education and Workforce Committee for consideration.