In the last couple of months, there has been increasing focus on the practice by some employers of requiring job applicants to hand over their passwords or allow access to their private accounts on social-networking sites such as Facebook, MySpace or Google+ in order to gather personal data when the social-networking profiles are closed to the public.
In April, Maryland became the first state to ban employers from requiring access to the social-media accounts of their employees and job applicants when its General Assembly passed a law concerning the practice. The bill also noted that it did not prevent employers from investigating Web sites or “Web-based accounts” for violations of securities or financial laws or regulatory requirements; nor does the bill prevent businesses from investigating employee misconduct in downloading proprietary data. Illinois is among the states considering legislation to protect job applicants from these demands. (The ACLU is leading a national campaign so that “no matter where you live, you can urge Congress to pass similar legislation.”)
Now, federal legislation has been introduced concerning the issue of employer access to private employee or job applicant data. Democratic Sens. Richard Blumenthal (Conn.), Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), Charles Schumer (N.Y.), Ron Wyden (Ore.) and Jeanne Shaheen (N.H.) have introduced the “Password Protection Act of 2012” (Blumenthal pdf; archive pdf). Similar legislation is expected to be introduced in the House.
The Password Protection Act goes beyond social-networking sites: It is a bill “To prohibit employers from compelling or coercing any person to authorize access to a protected computer, and for other purposes.” This means it would prevent employers from requiring a job applicant or an employee to reveal passwords for any private computer or private account — such as online sites. It also has prohibitions against any employer who “discharges, disciplines, discriminates against in any manner, or threatens to take any such action against, any person” who choose not to hand over their passwords to computers and sites (social-neworking or e-mail sites or others). The senators explained, “The Password Protection Act does not allow employers to access private employee data under any circumstances, even if the employer uses its own computers to access that data.” Note that the Password Protection Act has some exemptions.
In a news release, Blumenthal said, “Employers seeking access to passwords or confidential information on social networks, email accounts, or other protected Internet services is an unreasonable and intolerable invasion of privacy.” Klobuchar said, “No person should be forced to reveal their private online communications just to get a job. This is another example of making sure our laws keep up with advances in technology and that fundamental values like the right to privacy are protected.”