Congressman Eliot Engel and Rep. Jan Schakowsky introduced a legislation to protect users of social networking sites from having to divulge personal information to employers, schools and universities. The legislation protects people already employed or enrolled, and those seeking employment or admittance, or those facing disciplinary action. The bill called Social Networking Online Protection Act (SNOPA) would prohibit employers from demanding such access and from disciplining, discriminating against or denying employment to individuals for refusing to volunteer this information.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has been urging Congress to protect applicants and employees from requests to hand over private information on their private social networking accounts, such as Facebook. The ACLU urged its members to ask Congress to pass legislation that makes it illegal for employers to:

  • Access personal accounts or devices that are password protected.
  • Require any employee or applicant to provide Facebook passwords or other private materials.
  • Pressure employees to permit access to private material in other ways, including indirect routes such as by inviting them to join private social networks (e.g., “friending” them).
  • Discharge or discipline any employee who refuses to provide access to private materials or to threaten to do so.
  • Refuse to hire anyone for refusing to provide access to private materials.

“Several states, including New York, have begun addressing this issue, but we need a federal statute to protect all Americans across the country. We must draw the line somewhere and define what is private.  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.  This is a matter of personal privacy and makes sense in our digital world.”, Engel stated.

On May 2, 2012, Maryland became the first state prohibiting employers from requesting the social media passwords or accessing the social media accounts of prospective and current employees. And other states might not be far behind: Minnesota and Illinois have also drafted legislation based on Maryland’s bills and Washington State, Massachusetts, and New Jersey lawmakers have announced their intentions to introduce similar legislation.