A bill that would forbid employers from demanding their potential workers’ social networking login and password has been submitted to the US Congress. The spread of the dubious practice alarmed the public last month.
"We must draw the line somewhere and define what is private," said in a statement Rep. Eliot Engel, who co-sponsored the draft legislation. "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.”
If signed into a law, the Social Networking Online Protection Act would have violators fined $10,000 in a civil penalty.
A Senate bill following the same lines is currently in the writing.
While federal legislators are just considering a ban on the controversial practice, some states have already introduced such restrictions. Maryland was the first to forbid such demands earlier in April. The respective bills in the state legislature passed unanimously in the Senate, 49-0, and by a huge margin in the House, 129-8. Illinois, Michigan and California may follow the suit.
Outrage over coercing private data from applicants came after a March report by the Associated Press, which described how some bosses had demanded that job applicants disclosed passwords for their Facebook accounts. The goal was to check private data for embarrassing or damaging information, which could potentially harm the employer.
Other measures employers used to harvest information from social network profiles include friending an HR manager or login in to a company computer during a job interview, so that the manager could take a glimpse on your communications. Such practices are more prevalent among public agencies, especially those seeking to fill law enforcement positions such as police officers or 911 dispatchers, the report said.
Critics said requiring a Facebook password is akin to requiring keys to the applicant’s house, with one law professor interviewed by AP calling it "an egregious privacy violation." Proponents compared it to asking friends and neighbors during a routine background research.
Some applicants who faced surrendering their personal data said they refused to do so and were outraged. Others complied, saying getting a job and being able to feed their families were more important than keeping their wall posts private.
As the publicity fallout hit the Internet, Facebook pledged to engage with policymakers to curb the practice and threatened legal action. The company added it didn’t have any particular employers in mind at the moment.