Chris Dougherty, Contributor
You may soon have legal recourse in the fight to protect your privacy online. If a new bill finds its way into law, social networking users might soon be able to make a federal case out of employers asking to snoop through their online accounts.
Members of Congress, Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY) and Rep. Michael Grimm (R-NY) have reintroduced legislation that protects the personal information of social networking users from the prying eyes of employers and educational institutions. The Social Networking Online Protection Act (SNOPA), protects employees, students, job applicants and prospective students from being compelled to provide usernames, passwords and other personal information required to access accounts on sites like Facebook, Twitter and MySpace.
SNOPA was originally introduced to Congress in April, 2012 by Engel and Schakowsky. In response, Senators Charles E. Schumer (D-NY) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) urged the Justice Department to investigate whether such a practice violates the Stored Communications Act or the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.
Privacy, with regard to social networking sites, has been a topic of considerable debate for the past few years; in the meantime users will continue to suffer as a result. Last year, 14 states, including California, Delaware, and Maryland, all enacted legislation similar to SNOPA. However the practice has yet to be adopted at the federal level. More below…
Rep. Engel was quoted as saying, ‘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.’
Rep. Schakowsky said ‘The American people deserve the right to keep their personal accounts private. No one should have to worry that their personal account information, including passwords, can be required by an employer or educational institution, and if this legislation is signed into law, no one will face that possibility.’
SNOPA applies specifically to sites like Facebook; however, the bill would also provide protection for email and other user-generated content.
In addition to prohibiting employers and educational institutions from requiring access to account information, they would also be barred from disciplining, discriminating, or denying employment to individuals refusing to volunteer such information.
‘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’ Rep. Grimm said.
Rep. Schakowsky went on to say, ‘Privacy is a basic right that all Americans share, and one that we should act to protect; this legislation sets boundaries. No one seeking an educational or job opportunity should have to worry that their personal password information will be required as a condition of enrollment or employment.’
For now, SNOPA awaits review by the House Education and Workforce Committee. In the meantime several other members of Congress, including Rep. Paul Tonko (D-NY), Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) and Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-ME), are already jumping on board to support the bill.