HR News & Trends, Legal Issues

U.S. Senate Now Has Its Own Facebook Password Protection Bill

123RF Stock Photo

By Eric B. Meyer

Well, that didn’t take long.

Late last month, I reported on a bill that had been introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives, known as the Social Networking Online Protection Act (SNOPA), that would prohibit employers, schools, and universities from requiring someone to provide a user name, password or other access to online content.

Now, it’s the U.S. Senate’s turn to get in on the act with its own password bill. Plus, after the jump, I’ll have an update on similar legislation winding its way to Gov. Chris Christie in New Jersey…

Senate introduces Password Protection Act of 2012

Concerned with what they believe is “the growing practice of employers requiring prospective or current employees to provide access to password-protected accounts as a condition for employment,” Senators Richard Blumenthal, D-CT; Chuck Schumer, D-NY; Ron Wyden, D-OR; Jeanne Shaheen, D-NH; and Amy Klobuchar, D-MN, introduced the Password Protection Act of 2012 (PPA).

A press release from Sen. Blumenthal stresses that the PPA, which would amend the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, prohibits an employer from “forcing prospective or current employees to provide access to their own private account as a condition of employment and … from discriminating or retaliating against a prospective or current employee because that employee refuses to provide access to a password-protected account.”

The PPA will not interfere with an employer’s domain to set policies for employer-operated computer systems or hold employees accountable for stealing data from their employers. However, the PPA does not allow employers to access private employee data under any circumstances, even if the employer uses its own computers to access that data.

NJ close to passing similar law

Meanwhile, across the river (from me) in New Jersey, an Assembly committee has approved this measure that would prohibit an employer from requiring a current or prospective employee to provide or disclose any user name or password, or in any way provide the employer access to, a personal account or service.

However, unlike other legislation previously discussed on this blog, the New Jersey legislation would make it unlawful for an employer to even inquire if a current or prospective employee has an account or profile on a social networking website. Aggrieved plaintiffs may sue for damages, injunctive relief, and reasonable attorneys’ fees and court costs.

Making a mountain out of molehill?

Y’all know where I stand on this. I hate the idea of employers demanding that employees and candidates turn over online passwords.

However, I think that this “practice” is hardly a practice at all. The sponsor of similar legislation pending in California acknowledges that the practice of asking for such passwords is not widespread and that her bill is more of a preventive measure. Is this what we need? More preventative measures? While we’re at it, let’s pass a tax on puffy directing pants.

For more on the status of similar legislation pending in states across the country, check out this post from the Delaware Employment Law Blog.

This was originally published on Eric B. Meyer’s blog, The Employer Handbook.

Eric B. Meyer is a partner in the Labor and Employment Group of the Philadelphia-based law firm of Dilworth Paxson LLP . He dedicates his practice to litigating and assisting employers on labor and employment issues affecting the workplace, including collective bargaining, discrimination, employee handbook policies, enforcement of restrictive covenants, and trade secret protection. Eric also serves as a volunteer mediator for the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Contact him at emeyer@dilworthlaw.com .