Employers asking prospective or current employees for passwords should beware as the SNOPA bill would make the practice illegal with a hefty $10,000 fine attached.
The SNOPA bill, introduced by a New York Congressman, would make it illegal for employers to ask job candidates or current employees for Facebook passwords and usernames. Educational institutions would also be banned from asking students for their login information.
Democrat representative, Eliot Engel, introduced the Social Networking Online Protection Act on Friday. Under the bill, any employer would face a $10,000 penalty if they asked for access to social networking accounts.
"As you know, social media and networking has become an enormously widespread part of communications in our country, and around the globe. However, a person's digital footprint is largely unprotected," said Engel in a letter to gain support for his proposal.
The introduction of SNOPA comes after numerous incidents of job candidates being asked for their Facebook login information as part of their interview process.
"There have been countless examples of employers requiring an applicant to divulge their user name and password as part of the hiring process," said Engel. "Additionally, some universities, and even secondary schools have required that student either divulge their personal information, or grant the institution access to the personal account by be-friending the student."
Facebook released a statement back in March after it received a "distressing increase of employers" wanting access to other profiles and personal information.
The social network asserted that requesting information of other users violates the expectation of user security and warned that those contacting the site for such information may be exposing themselves to "unanticipated legal liability."
Erin Egan, Facebook chief privacy officer on policy, said Facebook would take action to protect the privacy and security of its users.
"Facebook takes your privacy seriously," said Egan in a statement. "We'll take action to protect the privacy and security of our users, whether by engaging policymakers or, where appropriate, by initiating legal action, including by shutting down applications that abuse their privileges."
Facebook warned that Employers requesting passwords from Facebook or job seekers themselves should be wary because it opens up themselves up to a lot of potential problems.
"We don't think employers should be asking prospective employees to provide their passwords because we don't think its right the thing to do," said Egan. "But it also may cause problems for the employers that they are not anticipating. For example, if an employer sees on Facebook that someone is a member of a protected group (e.g. over a certain age, etc.) that employer may open themselves up to claims of discrimination if they don't hire that person."
The company later released a statement saying they did not have "immediate plans" to sue employers but would focus on policy makers.
"While we do not have any immediate plans to take legal action against any specific employers, we look forward to engaging with policy makers and other stakeholders, to help better safeguard the privacy of our users," Facebook said in a statement.
This is not Congress' first effort to address the increasingly common practice. In March, the House of Representatives said no to a pre-existing FCC reform bill that would have given Facebook the right to regulate on the issue. However, Engel's proposal is the first federal legislation that would deal with the problem confrontationally.
"I think we will all object to having to turn over usernames and passwords for email accounts, or even worse, to bank accounts. User-generated social media content should be no different. These coercive practices are unacceptable, and should be halted. We have to draw a line between what is publicly available information, and what is personal, private content."
Please follow this author on Twitter @Tineka_S or comment below.